Outwardly, the case of Russian Alexander Vinnik reminds another episode of the American-Russian confrontation: he was arrested in a third country at the request of the US, accused of fraud, allegedly connected with hacking. Moreover, the crimes attributed to him are drawn almost to the Guinness book. And yet it is possible that politics has nothing to do with it.
The arrest of Alexander Vinnik in Greece, where he came to rest with his family, reveals the scale of the parallel financial reality. Laundering 4 billion dollars through crypto-currencies, manipulation with extortion programs, theft of personal data, drug trafficking, corruption - this is the incomplete list of charges that are brought to him by the US authorities.
Crime of the cyberworld
The day when 38-year-old Muscovite Alexander Vinnik was detained in the city of Thessaloniki at the request of the US authorities, will surely go down in history. The case of Vinnik, who is accused of a series of crimes using the world's most popular crypto currency - bitcoin, is by far the loudest crypto-currency scandal that demonstrates the possibilities of innovative payment means.
However, all the incriminated Vinnik needs to be proved - in fact, the charges against him may prove as ambiguous as the case of Victor Bout, sentenced to the 25 year in prison in the US.
The main episode of the "Vinnik case" - a possible involvement in the hacking of a large bitcoin-exchange Mt. Gox in 2014 year, when as a result of a hacker attack from this site (registered, by the way, in Japan), 850 thousand bitcoins were stolen.
Of these, 310 thousand were transferred to the electronic purses of another crypto exchange - BTC-E, behind which, according to the investigation, Alexander Vinnik is standing.
At the end of 2014, 310 thousand bitcoins are about 96 million dollars, but since then the rate of crypto currency has grown significantly, and now this amount is equivalent to 800 million dollars. And without taking into account several other major thefts with Mt. Gox and other platforms.
According to the network community on bitcoin-security WizSec, after the receipt of stolen bitcoins on Vinniku-controlled wallets, most of them were sent to the BTC-E exchange and were already realized there. In total, through BTC-E, 300 thousand bitcoins were sold, and the rest was sent to other sites, including the injured Mt. Gox.
According to American law enforcement agencies, Vinnik personally managed many accounts of BTC-E and was the main beneficiary of Canton Business Corporation, which managed BTC-E. In addition to thefts of bitcoins, Russians, according to investigators, are involved in the theft and use of personal data of users, drug trafficking, assistance to criminal groups in money laundering. In total, he was charged more than 20 points. The total term of imprisonment can be 55 years.
Currently, Alexander Vinnik is in a Greek prison awaiting the decision to extradite to the US, which the Greek authorities will accept after receiving additional documents from America. As the representative of the Russian Consulate General in Thessaloniki Vladimir Potapov told BFM, Vinnyk denies all charges against him.
Who is Mr. Vinnik?
In open sources, information about who Alexander Vladimirovich Vinnik is is practically absent. A person with this name is mentioned as the owner and head of a number of Moscow companies from the IT and financial services sphere, while the only one not liquidated is Exxenger LLC. Nothing concrete is known about their activities.
Much more information is available on the crypto-exchange of the BTC-E, with which Vinnik's activities are connected by Americans. This project was founded in 2011 year, that is, shortly after the crypto currency started to gain popularity (the first exchange of bitcoins for real goods occurred in May 2010).
In 2013 on the popular crypto-currency portal CoinDesk there was information that the founders of the BTC-E exchange were two Russians - some Alexei and Alexander, who had previously worked in the Skolkovo technopark. Now the corresponding page on CoinDesk is unavailable, and the portal BFM cites the information of the Skolkovo personnel department, according to which Alexander Vinnik never worked in the technopark or in the fund of the same name.
Almost simultaneously with the detention of Vinnik, the VTS-E site "lay down", and only 31 July, at one of the crypto-currency forums, its management issued a statement that Vinnik was never the head and employee of the service. As follows from this report, 25 July FBI employees withdrew from the data center all the server equipment, where there were databases and wallets BTS-E, and the fate of servers is still not known. At the same time, the leadership of the BTC-E asserts that if the service is not launched before the end of August, then the process of refunds will be launched from 1 September.
"In the next one or two weeks, we will evaluate and publish information on how much money fell into the hands of the FBI and what amount of funds is available for return,
- the report says.
In parallel, another process is unfolding in the Network - the union of "deceived investors" BTC-E. "We, organized users, concerned about hacking, fraud, fraud and malicious internal procedures and business practices of BTC-E ...", so their treatment begins. The "deceived depositors" page has published a version of the one who "really" is hiding behind this platform. According to her, the possible creator of the BTC-E is someone named Alexei Demidov, who is also Baltazar, allegedly connected with the Moscow IT company NPO "RusBiTech", who once had joint projects with Skolkovo.
Demidov's personality is known even less than about the arrested Alexander Vinnik, but his name corresponds to the hypothesis that the BTC-E founded "Alexander and Alexey."
"As far as I know, Demidov was listed in the state of RusBiTech as an IT specialist, although in addition to the official salary in previous times he had a good income from his own mining farm, and rather big. Perhaps it was used as one of the "financial cushions" of projects of his friends, among which was Vinnik, "says one representative of the crypto-currency community who asked to remain anonymous.
Another key participant in the BTC-E, according to the victims of crypto-exchanges, is the Russian businessman Sergei Mayzus, now living in the Czech Republic. This figure is much more famous. Former mayor of the city of Gurievsk in the Kaliningrad region, Maisus opened the brokerage platform InstaForex back in 2007, but soon transferred control over to its partner Ildar Sharipov (with whom he subsequently entered into a protracted conflict) and focused on the development of payment services. Not so long ago, his company Mayzus Financial Services, operating under the brand name MoneyPolo.com, acquired the electronic payment system OKPAY. According to the "deceived contributors" of the BTC-E, Mayzus and OKPAY worked in close contact with this exchange.
Whoever really stood for VTS-E, the reputation of this site was initially doubtful. As emphasized by the New York Times, the identity of its operators remained a secret, although other large stock exchanges of bitcoins tried to make the business "more transparent and friendly" for financial regulators. "I have never used their services - I did not like them at once: it was enough to look at the lack of design in the logo and on the site, including its functionality," says the source of the VZGLYAD newspaper in the crypto-currency community.
Beginning in November 2015, the BTC-E site was part of the register of resources banned in Russia on the basis of the decision of the Primorsky District Court of St. Petersburg. As of the beginning of the same year, BTC-E was one of the five largest crypto-exchange exchanges in the world and was considered the largest in Russia, its turnover was about 10 thousand bitcoins per day.
Claims to the MTC-E, after the ban in Russia moved to New Zealand hosting, went far beyond financial fraud. "Inside the bitcoin community, there was a general recognition that drug dealers could use BTC-E to convert their bitcoin operations to dollars," the New York Times wrote, recalling that Vinnik's arrest occurred shortly after the United States and Europe had eliminated two large Internet market of drugs, where the main means of calculation was bitcoin.
While without politics
"Vinnik's case" testifies first of all that bitcoins, which were recently considered an exotic means of payment, were acquired by many adepts, among whom the proportion of intruders is growing.
"Crypto currency scandals occur almost every day, they differ only in scale," the president of the Russian National Development Fund, Igor Chepkasov, told the newspaper VIEW. - One escaped with money after the promoted and looking convincing ICO (analogue of the primary placement of securities in crypto-currencies). The other was caught on money laundering through the crypto-currency exchange. The third took money in a fictitious trust management and disappeared in an unknown direction. The fourth together with friends hacked the stock exchange or demanded a ransom in bitcoins for the termination of telephone terrorism. The fifth advertised fake cloud mining, acting on the principle of the pyramid (dividends were paid at the expense of new arrivals "teapots", and there was no equipment for mining at all), and suddenly announced the suspension of payments, having ceased to communicate. Projects will fall one after another, like dominoes, and in the near future we will be convinced of this. The reasons for such "failures" are a change in the fintech policy in the developers' environment and a huge number of profane and Ostap Bender in the industry. "
On the other hand, emphasizes the Associate Professor of Higher School of Economics Pavel Rodkin, the "Vinnik case" testifies that the institutions of the traditional state have not disappeared and are still strong.
"The emergence of profit-making tools and markets based on them will never remain without control. "Volnitsa", which occurs at the stage of introduction and development of new technologies (for example, the same Internet, which seemed to be a space of freedom or the embodiment of almost digital communism), quickly enough ends. When financiers, speculators, various dealers and players gain access to big money, they convince themselves of the complete invulnerability and omnipotence that capital gives, but the fate of such characters always ends in one: a prison. This is a lesson for all those who believe in a digital society and economy, a new technological way, but do not want to understand the structure of the organization of society. Control from old subjects of power easily adapts to new technologies. If only because these old subjects are their real owner, "Rodkin told the VZGLYAD newspaper.
Indeed, the appeal of crypto-currency for many investors is still based on the fact that they are out of state regulation. But, as the list of charges against Vinnik showed, this by no means means that the crypto-currencies will be out of the effect of criminal law. It is noteworthy that while the "Vinnik case" is confined to criminal content, not a cloudy political component, although the notorious stories with "Russian hackers", insidiously interfering in the election processes in the US, create a good breeding ground for such a development of the accusation.
"Of course, the arrest of Vinnik can be easily politicized, since it fits very well into the general framework of hysteria about the" hand of Moscow. " Perhaps it played its role in that the operation to detain Vinnik was held right now, but the political component in this story is clearly of secondary importance, "says Pavel Rodkin.
Igor Chepkasov agrees that the story with Vinnik develops on an independent scenario, in parallel with the "war of sanctions". At least no official statements of a political nature have been made. "The United States is guarding its economic interests, they are consistently engaged in monitoring and analyzing any activity that, under certain criteria, can be recognized as illegal and threaten the well-being of the state and its citizens. In the event of revealing even the smallest signs of fraud or another crime, the reaction will be instantaneous - we have seen this. However, all civilized countries aspire to this, "the crypto-currency expert said.
Text: Mikhail Kuvyrko