A member of the defense team of the alleged BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik has called on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to intervene in support of his client. The Russian national may be sentenced to over 50 years in prison for his role in the infamous cryptocurrency exchange.
Prisoner Swap for Americans in Russian Custody Is Vinnik’s Only Chance to Return Home, Lawyer Says
Frederic Belot, the French lawyer who has been representing Russian crypto entrepreneur and alleged money launderer Alexander Vinnik in courts for years, has written to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia with a request to help for his client’s return to the homeland.
“The Vinnik case for the United States is not a legal, but a political trial,” the attorney said in the letter, quoted by the Russian Tass news agency. In the U.S., he may face imprisonment for more than 50 years, Belot warned and emphasized:
Now the only thing that can save Alexander is his exchange, among other Russians, for American citizens imprisoned in Russia.
Belot referred to the cases of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. This is not the first time he is suggesting this solution. In early September, the lawyer urged Moscow to include Vinnik in talks over a potential prisoner swap with Washington, highlighting Vinnik’s poor health after spending time in solitary confinement in France and a hunger strike in Greece.
In his address to Kirill, Frederic Belot pointed out that Vinnik is a “deeply believing Orthodox Christian” and added that “believing that the truth will prevail in the end helped him endure loneliness, separation from his family, the death of his wife, and the monstrous injustice on the part of the authorities of several countries.”
The French defense lawyer also turned attention to the violations of Vinnik’s rights after his detention in Greece and extradition to France, and then to the United States. The Russian was arrested while on vacation in Thessaloniki in July 2017 on a warrant issued by the U.S., where he is accused of laundering between $4 and $9 billion through the now-defunct BTC-e.
In December 2019, Greek authorities handed him over to France where a year later he was sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering. In early August, after serving his French sentence, Vinnik was returned to Greece which immediately transferred him to the U.S.
Throughout these years, Russia has also sought his extradition on charges of embezzlement and “fraud in the field of computer information” for a total of over $12 million but Moscow’s requests were not granted. Vinnik himself, who is suspected of having collaborated with Russian intelligence, has previously stated his will to appear before a Russian court.