Russian Suspect in Bitcoin Theft Case Faces Civil Suit in U.S.

One of the owners of digital currency exchange BTC-e, a Russian whose extradition the U.S. is seeking from Greece to face criminal charges, is now facing a civil lawsuit in California, Bloomberg wrote.

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco charged Alexander Vinnik in 2017 with stealing Bitcoins from other virtual exchanges, in alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. The U.S. is now attempting to recover penalties of $100 million from the company. One legal expert speculated the U.S. is adding a civil suit to get at assets the criminal complaint can’t reach — and to grab the assets before they’re gone.

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

Vinnik was detained in Greece after the U.S. 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 firm Elliptic.

He has been jailed since his arrest, fighting the U.S. extradition request. Russia is also seeking his extradition. Russian media reported earlier this month that a court council in Thessaloniki extended Vinnik’s detention by six months. He was due to be released July 25, according to Vinnik’s lawyer, Timofei Musatov, Tass said.