Police in New Zealand have seized $90m worth of assets belonging to a man wanted for cybercrimes in France and the United States.
Alexander Vinnik allegedly masterminded a Bitcoin laundering ring that handled billions of dollars via a digital currency exchange. He is also wanted for some minor crimes in his native Russia.
Digital cash allegedly laundered by the exchange is believed to have included $4bn in funds stolen from the now defunct Tokyo-based bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox in a cyber-heist.
US authorities assert Vinnik has committed a string of crimes ranging from computer hacking and money laundering to drug trafficking while in control of digital currency exchange BTC-e.
The 38-year-old alleged criminal has declared himself innocent of all the charges made against him, some of which date as far back as 2011. Vinnik maintains that he was merely a technical consultant to BTC-e and was not employed in an operational capacity.
The alleged criminal mastermind was admitted to a French hospital earlier this year after staging a hunger strike to protest his innocence.
Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 on money laundering charges and has since been extradited to France, where he is being held in custody.
French officials charged Vinnik on counts of extortion, aggravated money laundering, conspiracy, and harming automatic data-processing systems.
Zoe Konstantopoulou, a member of Vinnik’s defense team, said: “Alexander’s crime is to be Russian and a person with extraordinary technological knowledge that could liberate people economically.”
The multi-million-dollar seizure of Vinnik’s assets—worth NZ$140m—is the largest restraint of funds in New Zealand Police history.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the funds are probably ill-gotten gains pilfered from a slew of victims around the world.
“This restraint demonstrates that New Zealand is not, and will not be, a safe haven for the illicit proceeds generated from crime in other parts of the world,” said Coster.
The seizure was a joint effort achieved by close cooperation between the New Zealand Police and the US Internal Revenue Service. New Zealand cops said that it has applied to the High Court seeking forfeiture of the funds.