France charges bitcoin expert Vinnik with money laundering

PARIS (AP) — French officials have filed preliminary charges of money laundering and extortion against Russian bitcoin fraud suspect Alexander Vinnik, who’s tangled in a multi-country legal battle.

The United States (US) also wants to prosecute Vinnik, accusing him of laundering billions of dollars through BTC-e, one of the world’s largest digital currency exchanges. His native Russia also wants to put him on trial.

Vinnik, 39, was arrested in the summer of 2017 while on a family holiday in northern Greece, at the request of US authorities.

Vinnik said he acted as a technical consultant to the BTC-e platform and had no knowledge of any illegal activity. After a two-year legal tug-of-war, Vinnik was extradited from Greece to France and was immediately questioned by investigating judges, according to a French judicial official.

The judges handed him preliminary charges of extortion, money laundering and organised crime activity, the official said. Preliminary charges allow magistrates further time to investigate. Vinnik will remain in custody in the meantime.

Vinnik denied wrongdoing, and was on hunger strike for 35 days to protest his extradition to France. He wanted to go to Russia instead, where he faces lesser charges.

Bitcoin logos are displayed at the Inside Bitcoins conference and trade show. PHOTO: AP