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The Russian lobby could be part of a possible US-Russia prisoner exchange

WASHINGTON – A Russian accused of money laundering is lobbying to be included in a potential prisoner exchange between the United States and Russia, a court filing reveals.

Alexander VinikA Russian national accused of laundering billions of dollars through an illegal cryptocurrency exchange was extradited from Greece to California in August, where he remains in custody.

Bitcoin cyber crime suspect in Thessaloniki court for Russian extradition request

FILE: Russian bitcoin fraud suspect Alexander Vinik is taken to a court in Thessaloniki, Greece on October 11, 2017 to examine a Russian request to extradite the accused in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Vinik was arrested in Greece in 2017 at the request of the United States and later extradited to France, where he was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years in prison. He returned to Greece after serving his sentence, then was extradited to the United States

In a court filing on May 19, Vinik’s lawyer argued to amend a protective order in his case to extend efforts to include him in a possible prisoner swap between the US and Russia.

“Mr. Vinik should be allowed … to answer the charges against him and publicly advocate for his inclusion in the prisoner swap,” his attorney wrote. “It appears that the Justice Department is opposed to allowing Mr. Vinik to discuss the case because it opposes prisoner swaps and does not want to see him returned to Russia.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

The filing said the United States had previously offered to trade Vinik in exchange WNBA star Brittney Griner, “But the exchange took a different turn.” Griner, who was convicted of drug charges in Russia, was released in December in a prisoner exchange that resulted in convictions. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is back From Russia.

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FILE – Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested on espionage charges, hears a verdict in Moscow City Court, June 15, 2020, in Moscow, Russia.

Sofia Sandurskaya/AP

The United States is still seeking the release of Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage, and Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan Garshkovich, who was detained on espionage charges in March. The United States has said the allegations against them are baseless and they are considering them wrongfully detained.


FILE: US journalist Ivan Garshkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands in the dock before a hearing to consider an appeal against his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, April 18, 2023.

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty

“Numerous individuals with knowledge of prisoner swap negotiations told defense counsel that it was important for Mr. Vinik and his defense team to publicly advocate for his inclusion in a trade to maximize the likelihood of such an exchange,” the court filing said.

Vinik’s lawyer said “negotiations are ongoing between the two countries” about a possible prisoner exchange.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported on the court filing.

The United States has provided few details about its negotiations with Russia as it seeks the release of Whelan and Gershkovich.

Earlier this week, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller declined to say Russia engaged in “serious proposals”. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken offered Whelan’s release. Blinken said in March that the United States had made an offer and urged Moscow to accept it.

“We’ve often found that it’s not conducive to our efforts — to return home those wrongly detained — to talk about the details of that effort,” Miller said.

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