BTC-e Operator Alexander Vinnik to Go on Hunger Strike, Lawyer Says
Alexander Vinnik, the suspected operator of the infamous BTC-e exchange, plans to start a hunger strike on Monday, days before his next court hearing. The Russian, who has been accused by U.S. authorities of laundering billions of dollars through the now-defunct crypto trading platform, fears he is not going to receive a fair trial.
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Complaints About Rights Violations
Vinnik, who has been detained in a Greek jail since his arrest in Thessaloniki last summer, is protesting prison conditions and violations of his rights, the head of his defense team, Timofey Musatov, told Russian reporters. The lawyer said Vinnik has already informed the Russian consul in the northern Greek city about his decision to go on a hunger strike.
Greek police detained the Russian national in July 2017 on a warrant issued by the U.S., where he has been charged with laundering funds from the Mt Gox hack and more than 20 other crimes. Prosecutors believe Vinnik and his accomplices laundered between $4 billion and $9 billion through BTC-e, once the largest Russian crypto exchange.
In early October, a court in Thessaloniki ruled in favor of Vinnik’s extradition to the U.S. His lawyers have filed an appeal with the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of Greece in Athens and his next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.
Russia has previously objected to the extradition of its citizens to the United States. The authorities in Moscow want him back in the Russian Federation, where he is accused of stealing 600,000 rubles ($9,000).
France also requested Vinnik’s extradition in June. However, according to Musatov, the 90-day European arrest warrant issued by Paris has already expired. Vinnik wants to return to his native country and even confessed to Russian fraud charges in May. His defense team fears the French authorities would immediately hand him over to the U.S., where he faces a possible life sentence.
Fear of an Unfair Trial
But Vinnik and his lawyers don’t want a trial in Greece, either. They claim the Greek judicial authorities are depriving him of a proper legal defense, as he has been moved multiple times between the prison in Athens and the court in Thessaloniki for hearings and interrogations.
In a letter to the Russian Consulate in Thessaloniki, quoted by RIA Novosti, Vinnik complained that he had been treated inhumanely. He said he has been transported numerous times between various Greek cities, handcuffed in the back seats of small cars. He described it as torture and claims he has been forced to sleep on the floor without a mattress.
His lawyer, Musatov, stated:
On Monday, Vinnik will go on a hunger strike to protest against this situation. He sees no other way out – it’s either justice or death.
At his next hearing at the Supreme Court on Thursday, Vinnik’s defense team plans to ask for the appointment of a new judge, as different Greek courts have supported extradition requests filed by Russia, France and the U.S. Musatov wasn’t able to confirm whether the defendant will be present in court.
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