A February 1 statement from the Office of Public Affairs of the US Department of Justice has announced a new indictment against Aliaksandr Klimenka, charging him with conspiracy to commit money laundering and operating an unlicensed money service business in the United States. The 42-year-old Aliaksandr Klimenka allegedly controlled BTC-e, the popular cryptocurrency exchange, Soft-FX, a tech services company, and FX Open, a financial company offering foreign exchange trading. He reportedly committed the alleged crimes during his time in control of the three companies.
Aliaksandr Klimenka was on the run until December 21, 2023, when local law enforcement officers arrested him in Latvia at the behest of the United States Government. He was subsequently handed over to the US Department of Justice and detained in a Federal detention center in California. The recently announced indictment against the Belarusian and Cypriot national is the first time the United States is charging Aliaksandr Klimenka with any criminal offense. He is yet to respond to the allegations as of press time.
What Are the Allegations?
The US Department of Justice had earlier filed charges against BTC-e, so the new indictment introduces no new charges against the cryptocurrency exchange. However, the indictment charges Belarusian Aliaksandr Klimenka of several crimes committed because of his attachment to the embattled crypto exchange.
Additionally, the indictment accuses Aliaksandr of controlling BTC-e, FX Open, and Soft-FX, three (unlicensed) companies to offer money services in the United States. During his time with BTC-e, Aliksandr allegedly allowed Bitcoin trading with high levels of anonymity, creating the perfect environment for criminals and bad actors.
The Department of Justice also accused Aliaksandr Klimenka of allowing his platform, BTC-e, to be used as a conduit for the proceeds of criminal activity, including ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes, hacking incidents, and narcotics distribution rings. Also, Aliaksandr allegedly operated BTC-e in the United States without registering as a money services business with the US Department of Treasury. The DOJ also alleged that BTC-e had no appropriate KYC or anti-money laundering measures, breaking several US laws.
Aliaksandr Klimenka faces up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of all the allegations leveled against him. While he’s still in custody in the United States, he is presumably innocent until pronounced guilty by a court of law.
The Bigger Picture
The arrest is part of a broader United States operation targeting former operators of the now-defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange. In a series of indictments, the DOJ accused several persons, the latest of which is Klimenka, of several criminal offenses. The arrests are (mostly) due to their association with the cryptocurrency exchange.
In 2017, a grand jury in the Northern District of California indicted Russian national Alexander Vinnik on charges of operating an unlicensed money service business and conspiracy to commit money laundering, among other alleged crimes. The case did not immediately go to trial in 2017, as Vinnik was facing jail time in Greek prison, but he was extradited to the US in 2022 after concluding his five-year jail term.
What to Expect
The DOJ would be looking to (quickly) round up the Aliaksandr Klimenka and Alexander Vinnik trials. Sentencing will expectedly occur in both cases before the end of the year. Also, it’s unlikely that either of them will get away with the indictment due to the gravity of their offenses and the strength of the case on the prosecutorial end.
However, co-conspirator Alexander Vinnik is optimistic about his inclusion in a prison swap agreement in exchange for WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich in ongoing discussions between the Russian and US governments.
“Mr. Vinnik’s case is unquestionably one of significant public interest. He has been the subject of political negotiations over a prisoner swap with Russia at the highest levels of the government,” Vinnik’s lawyers said in a recent motion to amend a protective order against Alexander Vinnik.
While it’s unlikely that the Russian government will move to include Aliaksandr Klimenka in any proposed criminal swap deal (he’s a Belarussian citizen), we can’t rule out the possibility. Without any prisoner swap deals involving the two BTC-e suspects, it is nearly impossible for the duo to avoid jail terms.