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Alexander Vinnik, the alleged administrator of defunct bitcoin exchange BTC-e, reportedly began a hunger strike on Monday following a series of developments in his case that has seen authorities in the US, France, and Russia jockey to extradite him into their custody. A report by Russian news agency TASS revealed that the head of Vinnik’s legal team, Timofev Musatov, stated that Vinnik decided to embark on the hunger strike as a response to what he describes as illegal actions on the part of French and Greek authorities.
Accused of facilitating criminal activity by laundering $4.9 billion worth of bitcoin obtained from illegal activities such as the 2014 Mt. Gox hack, Vinnik was arrested while on holiday in Greece in 2017. Despite extradition requests from American prosecutors and a European arrest warrant issued by France, Vinnik has been held in a Greek prison for more than a year as a three-way custody tussle involving his home country Russia, the US, and France has played out.
In 2017, the Greek Supreme Court ruled that Vinnik should be extradited to the US, but this decision was muddied in 2018, with another court ruling that he should be extradited to Russia instead. This was then further complicated by a French-issued European arrest warrant which came through in June, necessitating a supreme court session on November 19 to discuss the issue, after which the ruling was postponed to November 29.
Musatov revealed that Vinnik’s decision to go on a hunger strike was born out of a realization that he would likely not have access to a proper defense in France or in Greece, which is allegedly evidenced by the possibility that the European arrest warrant may have already expired.
Quoted by TASS, he said:
“The Greek Supreme Court’s judge completely ignores the work of lawyers who cannot even file a petition. She does not give them an opportunity to speak or do it. After observing this situation, Alexander realized that he would either get a fair trial or die. If there is no fair trial, he will inevitably be deported to the United States through France, where he will get something close to a life sentence, which equals death.”
According to Musatov, Vinnik does not see any other option because he does not want to put up with a situation where his legal treatment differs from that of an EU citizen due to his Russian nationality. Since his arrest, Vinnik has consistently maintained his innocence, stating that he merely carried out technical duties at BTC-e.
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