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Alleged Bitcoin Thief’s Trial Starts Next Week in Paris


Oct. 21 2020, Updated 11:21 a.m. ET

The trial of Russian-born IT specialist Alexander Vinnik will start on Oct. 26 in Paris. He allegedly created and implemented “Locky” email malware that enabled $157 million to be taken in bitcoin ransom from French organizations, according to Yahoo Finance

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Who is Alexander Vinnik?

Alexander Vinnik allegedly directed and supervised operations for the Russian BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange from 2011 through 2017. He has been the subject of a legal battle spanning multiple countries in the last few years.

French authorities charged Vinnik with creating ransomware delivered through email. When recipients downloaded the malware, their data became encrypted. Ransom was demanded and they paid with bitcoin in order to recoup the data. 

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The scam targeted French companies, legal offices, and local councils from 2016 to 2018. A total of 20 victims paid the ransom. According to Yahoo Finance, Vinnik allegedly laundered 135 million euros or $157 million through the illegal BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange. 

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In addition to the charges Vinnik faces in France, he also faces charges in Russia and the U.S. He faces charges for smaller-scale fraud in Russia. In contrast, U.S. authorities have charged him with laundering $4 billion through the BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange, according to CyberScoop

Greek authorities arrested Vinnik in 2017 based on U.S. charges. For two years, there was a legal debate about whether he should be tried first in the U.S., Russia, or France. Ultimately, Vinnik was extradited to France. 

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Vinnik underwent a 35-day hunger strike in an attempt to be sent to Russia first, where his charges are less severe. A guilty verdict at his trial in Paris could mean up to a ten-year prison sentence. 

What is money laundering?

Money laundering refers to the “illegal process of making large amounts of money generated by a criminal activity, such as drug trafficking or terrorist funding, appear to have come from a legitimate source,” according to Investopedia

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When organizations commit the crime of money laundering, they are getting money through illegitimate sources or methods. They use legitimate businesses or organizations to make the funds appear legal. Cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, can be used in criminal schemes due to the complexities of tracing electronic transactions. 

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Is bitcoin safe to use?

Bitcoin has been around for a decade. Like other financial tools, bitcoin is usually safe when the correct security steps are taken. Cryptonews said, “The protocol itself is sturdy enough to withhold even the most sophisticated attacks.”

According to Cryptonews, the first rule is to take care of your password, which is the private “key” for access to your bitcoin. However, other security measures are essential to protecting your bitcoin. 

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What is bitcoin's price today?

As of 9:15 a.m. ET Oct. 21, the bitcoin exchange rate was 1 bitcoin to $12,420, according to CoinTelegraph.  

How to invest in bitcoin

To invest in bitcoin, you need a digital wallet for storage. You can purchase bitcoin by connecting the wallet to an existing bank account or credit card. Investors trade through an exchange or an online marketplace. You should use caution when you access your data and bitcoin online. 


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