Trial of Russian in alleged bitcoin fraud to wrap in Paris

Science and Technology

FILE – In this Oct.4, 2017 file photo, police officers escort Alexander Vinnik, center as they leave a courthouse at the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. The Russian bitcoin fraud suspect Alexander Vinnik goes on trial on Monday in Paris for allegedly having used ransomware in a fraud involving 200 victims and estimated to a global amount of 135 million euros. Alexander Vinnik, who is also wanted in the United States and in Russia, is facing up to ten years in prison in a four-day trial in France over charges of extorsion, money laundering and criminal association. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos, File)

PARIS (AP) — French prosecutors requested on Friday a 10-year jail term and a fine of 750,000 euros ($888,634) against Alexander Vinnik, who is accused of being behind a 135 million-euro ($160 million) fraud campaign that used ransomware and the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

The 41-year-old Russian, who is also wanted in the United States and Russia, is facing in France charges of extortion, money laundering and criminal association.

Paris prosecutor Johanna Brousse requested that Vinnik remain in jail.

A series of attacks on French businesses and organizations between 2016 and 2018 led to 20 victims paying ransom demands issued in bitcoin, one of the more widely used cryptocurrencies, through BTC-e, one of the world’s largest digital currency exchanges.

French prosecutors say Vinnik was one of the creators of the malicious software called “Locky” that was delivered through email. If downloaded, the recipient’s data was encrypted and they were asked to pay ransom in bitcoin to free it.

During an often tense week of court hearings in Paris, Vinnik’s main line of defense was that he was only a technical operator carrying out the instructions of BTC-e directors.

An investigator with the international police organization Interpol told the court that with the help of the U.S., which provided data from BTC-e, it appeared that most of the ransom payments were sent to an account that was linked to Vinnik,

Vinnik’s lawyer, Zoé Konstantopoulou, accused French prosecutors of being “ill-intentioned.”

“There was no French investigation. The Americans said: it’s Vinnik… and said: ‘make sure he is being transferred to the U.S.,’” she told the court.

Vinnik, speaking in Russian, said “I am not guilty, I don’t have any relation with ‘Locky’.”

He said the investigation had been “botched” and that his rights were not being respected. “The Americans handed over questionable documents to France,” he said.

The verdict will come at a later date.

Vinnik was arrested in the summer of 2017 while on a family holiday in northern Greece, at the request of U.S. authorities. France, Russia and the United States had asked Greece earlier this year to extradite him to France, so that he would be within the legal borders of the European Union. He went on a hunger strike for 100 days while detained in Greece.

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