Russian sentenced to French prison for Bitcoin money laundering

PARIS (AP) – A Russian bitcoin expert, at the center of a multi-state litigation, was sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering in Paris on Monday and fined € 100,000 on suspicion of cryptocurrency fraud.

According to his lawyers, a court has acquitted Alexander Vinnik for extortion and association with a criminal company. Vinnik denies wrongdoing and his lawyers are debating whether to appeal.

Vinnik, 41, is also wanted in the USA and Russia. He has been accused of being behind a $ 160 million ($ 160 million) scam campaign that used ransomware and the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

French prosecutors say Vinnik was one of the creators of malicious software called “Locky” that was delivered via email. When downloading, the recipient’s data was encrypted and asked to pay a ransom in Bitcoin to unlock it.

A series of such attacks on French companies and organizations between 2016 and 2018 resulted in 20 victims paying ransom demands in Bitcoin, one of the most widely used cryptocurrencies, through BTC-e, one of the world’s largest digital currency exchanges.

In his trial, Vinnik’s main line of defense was that he was just a technical operator carrying out the instructions of the BTC-e directors.

The court convicted Vinnik of money laundering but did not find enough evidence to convict him of extortion and halted shortly before the 10-year prison sentence and prosecutor’s requested fines of € 750,000.

One of his French lawyers, Ariane Zimra, said his money laundering conviction made “no sense”, arguing that cryptocurrency is not legally considered “money”.

Vinnik was arrested while on vacation in Greece and transferred to France earlier this year.

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