Analysis

New Zealand police have seized $140 million in bank funds linked to Alexander Vinnik, a Russian alleged to have been the controller of the now-defunct BTC-e cryptocurrency exchange.

The seizure of funds, which were controlled by a New Zealand-registered company, is said to be the largest in the country’s history by federal police. The force’s Asset Recovery Unit moved to freeze the funds amid a global investigation into the activities of the exchange and its operators, according to a report by news source NZ Herald.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that Vinnik controlled BTC-e, a bitcoin exchange that was used to launder billions of dollars for criminal enterprises. Vinnik, who has been denying the charges for up to three years, was arrested based on extradition orders from the U.S. while holidaying with family in Greece back in 2017.

New Zealand police allege that the exchange had no anti-money laundering (AML) controls in place, resulting in criminals laundering crime-related proceeds through the platform.

“New Zealand Police has worked closely with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States to address this very serious offending,” Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said. “These funds are likely to reflect the profit gained from the victimisation of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people globally as a result of cyber-crime and organised crime.”

Vinnik is now in custody in France after being extradited earlier this year following a ruling from Greece’s Council of State, the country’s supreme administrative court on January 23.

French officials have since charged him with counts of extortion, aggravated money laundering, conspiracy and harming automatic data-processing systems for his alleged involvement in laundering money for criminals.

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