Alleged Russian Bitcoin thief sued for $100m

The US charged Alexander Vinnik, who now faces a civil lawsuit, with supervising a digital-currency exchange that helped criminals launder billions of dollars

FILE PHOTO: A token of the virtual currency Bitcoin is seen placed on a monitor that displays binary digits in this illustration picture, December 8, 2017. Picture taken December 8. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Digital currency exchange BTC-e and one of its owners, a Russian whose extradition the US is seeking from Greece so he can face criminal charges, now face a civil lawsuit in California.

The US is attempting to recover penalties of $100 million (Dh367.2m) from the company and Alexander Vinnik for alleged breaches of the Bank Secrecy Act. Federal prosecutors in San Francisco charged Mr Vinnik in 2017 with stealing Bitcoins from other virtual exchanges. One legal expert speculated the US is adding a civil suit to get at assets the criminal complaint can't reach – and to grab assets before they're gone.

BTC-e is incorporated in Cyprus or the Seychelles, or both, prosecutors said. Users in various places, including northern California, used the exchange to anonymously trade Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Mr Vinnik was detained in Greece after the US also charged him with supervising a digital-currency exchange that helped criminals launder billions of dollars. The exchange handled some Bitcoins traced to Fancy Bear, one of the names used by Russian military intelligence officers accused of stealing and releasing Democrats’ emails to sway voters in the 2016 elections, according to analyst company Elliptic.

He’s been jailed since his arrest, fighting the US extradition request. Russia is also seeking his extradition. The Russian news agency Tass reported on July 11 that a court council in Thessaloniki extended Mr Vinnik’s detention by six months. He was due to be released July 25, according to his lawyer, Timofei Musatov, Tass said.

“The US is kidnapping Russian citizens through third countries,” Mr Vinnik told Bloomberg News last year.