The seized bank funds, said to be connected to suspected Russian money launderer Alexander Vinnik, represent the largest ever asset restraint in New Zealand police history.
New Zealand police have recovered NZD 140 million (USD 90 million) connected to an investigation into suspected Russian money launderer Alexander Vinnik.
The 37-year old Vinnik was arrested while on holiday in Greece in 2017 on an extradition order from the US, on charges that he laundered billions of dollars for criminal syndicates since 2011 through BTC-e, a cryptocurrency exchange he controlled.
BTC-e is said to have lacked basic AML controls. It did not require users to validate their identities, allowed them to anonymise transactions and obscure their source of funds. Proceeds derived from hacking, ransomware attacks, theft, fraud, corruption and drug crime are said to have been laundered through the exchange.
According to NZ Herald, Vinnik has denied the charges, saying he was just an employee of BTC-e and not the one in charge. He had been fighting the US extradition order for three years since his 2017 arrest, but lost his appeal in January.
He has since been extradited to France, where he is likely to stand trial on charges of money laundering and extortion, before being extradited to the US to face similar charges and maximum penalties of up to 55 years in prison. Vinnik is also wanted in Russia on lesser charges.
The newly-frozen NZD 140 million in bank funds – which were under the control of a New Zealand registered company connected to Vinnik – represents the largest ever restraint of funds in New Zealand police history.
“New Zealand Police has worked closely with the Internal Revenue Service of the United States to address this very serious offending,” said New Zealand Police Commissioner Andrew Coster in a statement. “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.”
“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.”
Additional reporting from Reuters.