New Zealand law enforcement authorities claim to have seized more than $90 million in bitcoin funds from the now 39-year-old Alexander Vinnik, the alleged fraudster who’s accused of stealing billions of dollars in crypto from unsuspecting victims through the now defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency platform.
Alexander Vinnik Sees His Money Taken
Vinnik’s crimes apparently date back to the year 2011. The United States has sought his extradition on charges of computer fraud, computer hacking and drug trafficking. However, it was reported close to a year ago that Vinnik was set to face trial in France.
The recent bitcoin seizure is the largest in New Zealand’s history. The money was likely being laundered through a New Zealand-based company that Vinnik owned. He is accused of being the criminal mastermind of the BTC-e fiasco, though Vinnik maintains his innocence, claiming he only performed as a technical advisor for the company. He says he had no knowledge of illicit activity and is thus not responsible for any theft that may have occurred involving customers’ funds.
Vinnik was initially arrested about three years ago in Greece while vacationing with family on charges of money laundering. He spent about two years wasting away in one of the country’s jail cells before being extradited to France, where he remains in custody to this day.
He is also wanted in the United States and in Russia, though on lesser charges. Vinnik initially started his prison sentence out on a dramatic turn by invoking a hunger strike. He complained about the poor meal offerings given to prisoners and the low-end treatment they were made to suffer and said that he was looking to make a statement and invoke change.
The hunger strike lasted 35 days, and Vinnik was adamant that he shouldn’t be sent to France but must rather be put on trial in Russia, where the charges were likely to be less harsh.
While it has not yet been proven, New Zealand police believe the seized funds may have come from the customer victimization Vinnik claims he wasn’t a part of while working for BTC-e. Thousands of customers around the world allegedly suffered heavy losses of their digital funds when the platform decided to end its operations, resulting in billions of dollars vanishing into thin air.
New Zealand Is Not a Safe Haven for Criminals
New Zealand police commissioner Andrew Coster explained in a statement:
This restraint demonstrates that New Zealand is not, and will not be, a safe haven for the illicit proceeds generated from crime in other parts of the world.
The police of New Zealand say they’ve worked in partnership with the United States’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over the past few years to uncover the money and invoke the seizure. It is now working with the country’s High Court system to ensure that the funds are properly forfeited and placed into police custody for further study.