Accused Russian Money Launderer Asks to be Included in Potential Prisoner Swap

May 24, 2023

Lawyers for accused Russian money launderer Alexander Vinnik lobbied in a new court filing to include their client in any potential prisoner swap for detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Vinnik is the co-founder of a popular bitcoin exchange. He was arrested in Greece in 2017 under a U.S. warrant and extradited to the U.S. last year.

He’s been charged with 21 criminal counts. U.S. authorities say he ran a money laundering operation through his cryptocurrency business BTC-e, which he co-founded in 2011. Authorities say the exchange was popular with Russian criminals and it was used to facilitate ransomware extortions, identity-theft schemes and drug deals. 

Vinnik has pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

Gershkovich, meanwhile, was arrested in Russia on March 29 and charged with espionage. Moscow’s intel agency FSB said he “was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex.”

On Tuesday a Russian court extended Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention by three months, through at least August 30, though authorities have not revealed what evidence they have gathered to support the espionage charges—or if they have any evidence at all.

In April, the State Department designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained.” 

The effort to free Vinnik in a swap for Gershkovich has highlighted how attorneys for detained Americans and Russians are ramping up efforts to get their clients included in any potential prisoner swaps. 

“Wrongfully detained” American Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony on what both his family and U.S. authorities say are fabricated charges of spying, earlier this week made the plea not to be overlooked amid efforts to secure Gershkovich’s freedom.

Whelan was not included in the December prisoner swap that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner. At the time, the Kremlin refused to include Whelan when it traded Griner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

In their latest filing, Vinnik attorneys Jodi Linker and David Rizk wrote that “numerous” people with knowledge of U.S.-Russia negotiations have told them that they should lobby publicly for his inclusion in a prisoner swap “in order to maximize the chances of such an exchange.” 

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the motion by Vinnik’s attorneys. 

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