WSJ learned about Vinnik's attempt to obtain an exchange for the American Gershkovich

WSJ learned about Vinnik's attempt to obtain an exchange for the American Gershkovich

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Author: Robert Strickland (crypto-journalist)
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WSJ learned about Vinnik's attempt to obtain an exchange for the American Gershkovich
The Wall Street Journal has learned of an attempt by Russian Vinnik to obtain an exchange for Gershkovich, an American detained in Russia.
Attorneys have asked the court to ease restrictions placed on the Russian man so that he can publicly defend himself and participate in a campaign to have him included in a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States

Russian Alexander Vinnik, who faces money laundering charges in the U.S., is fighting to be included in any prisoner exchange between the two countries, including for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich, WSJ reports.

Vinnik was arrested in Greece in July 2017 at the request of the U.S. Justice Department. He was accused of involvement in stealing between $4 billion and $9 billion worth of cryptocurrency from the Japanese exchange Mt. Gox and laundering it through the BTC-e platform, allegedly created by himself.

In Russia, Vinnik was also charged back in 2017, after he confessed to Russian law enforcement authorities to the theft of 750 million rubles. He was arrested in absentia in 2018. Requests for his extradition came to Greece from France, the United States, and Russia. Eventually, he was transferred to Paris, then to the United States. There he faces up to 55 years in prison.

Alexander Vinnik's lawyer has submitted new documents to the court in which he is trying to change the restraining order in Vinnik's case to more openly seek an exchange for his client. Such orders are routinely used in the U.S. and prohibit the disclosure of information related to the case.

The lawyer noted that U.S. prosecutors have spoken openly about the charges against Vinnik, but he himself is limited in his ability to defend himself publicly by this restraining order. The lawyer expects the prosecution to object to changes in the order at a hearing in early June.

Documents filed with the court by Vinnik's lawyer also stated that "he has been the subject of political prisoner exchange negotiations with Russia at the highest levels of government. And a public campaign, which is only possible if the restraining order is changed, is important "in order to maximize the chances of such an exchange."

At one point, the U.S. was willing to exchange Vinnik for basketball player Brittney Griner, the Russian's lawyers said, but the situation took a different turn and the athlete was exchanged for Victor Bout.

Journalists note that Vinnik may now be exchanged for American Evan Gershkovich, a WSJ correspondent who was arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage. Another U.S. citizen detained is former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in custody since late 2018. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years for espionage in a closed trial in 2020.

Vinnik's lawyers have not stopped trying to arrange his exchange for U.S. citizens detained in Russia. Back in September 2022, they urged the Russian Foreign Ministry to begin negotiations on the issue, and in October, a lawyer asked Patriarch Kirill to facilitate Vinnik's return.

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