Lawyer for alleged crypto launderer urges Russia to discuss prisoner swap

By Filipp Lebedev

MOSCOW, Sept 5 (Reuters) – The lawyer for a Russian accused of laundering more than $4 billion through the digital currency bitcoin urged Moscow on Monday to start negotiations with the United States to include his client in a possible exchange of prisoners.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July Washington had made a “substantial offer” to Moscow for the release of US citizens detained in Russia, including US basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan .

In a letter seen by Reuters, a lawyer for Alexander Vinnik, a Russian extradited to the United States last month to face money laundering charges, called on Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to begin negotiations exchange with Washington.

“Now the only thing that can save Alexander is for the Russian Federation to enter into negotiations with the American authorities in the context of the exchange of prisoners between the mentioned countries”, says the letter from lawyer Frédéric Belot .

Belot said he emailed the letter to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The ministry declined immediate comment.

Vinnik was arrested in 2017 in Greece at the request of the United States, although Moscow has repeatedly called for him to be returned to Russia.

He was extradited from Greece to France where he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for money laundering before being sent back to Greece and then to the United States where he appeared before a judge in San Francisco earlier this month last.

His lawyer said Vinnik was being held in solitary confinement in France and that due to the stress of solitary confinement, psychiatrists “declared that he had partial memory loss,” the letter said.

Vinnik’s lawyer says his client has repeatedly denied and continues to deny all charges against him.

The US Department of Justice said Vinnik “allegedly owned, operated, and administered BTC-e, a major cybercrime and online money laundering entity that enabled its users to trade bitcoin with a high level of anonymity and to develop a clientele highly dependent on criminal activity.

The maximum sentence for the US charges against Vinnik is 55 years in prison, according to the US Department of Justice website, a figure confirmed by Vinnik’s attorney.

“This term for Alexandre is equivalent to life,” Belot said.

Russia has repeatedly said it is engaged in “quiet diplomacy” with the United States over a possible prisoner swap. (Editing by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Alistair Bell)

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