Greek court orders extradition to France of Russian Bitcoin suspect

Russian Alexander Vinnik, centre, has been held in custody since his arrest last year on suspicion of money laundering (AFP Photo/SAKIS MITROLIDIS)

Athens (AFP) - The Greek Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the extradition to France of Russian Alexander Vinnik, who headed the Bitcoin exchange BTC-e, on suspicion of money laundering, judicial sources said.

The ruling appears to resolve a legal tug-of-war in which the court also has had to consider rival extradition requests from Russia and the United States.

Vinnik has been held in custody since his arrest in July 2017 at the northern Greek tourist resort of Halkidiki.

In an October 2017 ruling the court accepted his extradition to the United States but then also agreed to the request from Moscow.

On Wednesday it decided he should instead be sent to France since Paris had submitted a European Arrest Warrant against him that offered a more direct procedure, one of the sources said.

The French warrant says Vinnik defrauded more than 100 people in six French cities between 2016 and 2018.

Vinnik had told the court that he preferred to be extradited to Russia, where he is wanted on fraud charges totalling 9,500 euros ($10,800).

BTC-e, founded in 2011, became one of the world's largest and most widely used digital currency exchanges.

A judicial source said BTC-e was also suspected of having played a role in online extorsion and other cyber-crimes.

Vinnik is also being investigated in connection with the hacking of an earlier earlier digital currency exchange Mt. Gox, one of the pioneers in the field before collapsing in 2014.

A US court indicted Vinnik last year on 21 charges ranging from identity theft and facilitating drug trafficking to money laundering.

The US Treasury Department has already slapped BTC-e with a $110 million fine for "wilfully violating" US anti-money laundering laws. Vinnik himself has been ordered to pay $12 million.

In a separate ruling, the Supreme Court also ordered the extradition to France of convicted crime boss Lasha Shushanashvili, a Georgian national.

France suspects Shushanashvili of being part of a Georgian criminal network known as Vory v Zakone -- Thieves in Law -- along with his brother Kakhaber.

He was first arrested in Greece in 2012, where he got a 14-year sentence for leading an international mafia network.

In France he is accused of having carried out several thefts but may yet be returned to Greece for trial on other crimes there.