The Russian “internationally sought ‘mastermind’ of a crime organisation” accused of laundering more than $4bn in bitcoin, including funds obtained from the hack of failed bitcoin exchange Mt Gox, has been arrested in Greece.
A US jury indicted Alexander Vinnik on Wednesday after his arrest in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, following an investigation led by the US justice department along with several other federal agencies and task forces.
Vinnik was described by the justice department as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011, which was allegedly used to launder more than $4bn for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking.
US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt Gox, the Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.
“Just as new computer technologies continue to change the way we engage each other and experience the world, so too will criminals subvert these new technologies to serve their own nefarious purposes,” said Brian Stretch, US attorney for the Northern District of California.
Vinnik’s arrest is the latest in a series of US operations against Russian cybercriminals in Europe, including the taking down of two of the biggest dark web marketplaces for drugs, guns and other illicit items, AlphaBay and Hansa, last week.
The prosecutions also coincide with intensified scrutiny of Russian hackers after US intelligence officials determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election using cyber-warfare methods to help Donald Trump, something Moscow denies.
During his time in the digital currency market, US authorities allege Vinnik facilitated crimes including hacking, fraud, identity theft, tax refund fraud, public corruption and drug trafficking. Greek police described Vinnik as a “an internationally sought ‘mastermind’ of a crime organisation”.
BTC-e, which has been out of service for more than a day, attributed this to “unplanned maintenance”. In a tweet on Wednesday after the arrest of Vinnik, BTC-e said it would restore service in the next five to 10 days.
The exchange is one of the oldest virtual currency platforms. It allows users to trade bitcoin pseudonymously against a variety of fiat and virtual currencies, and is known in cryptocurrency markets as having relaxed standards for checking users’ identity, and for not collaborating with law enforcement.