FBI Wanted Co-Founder of Crypto Exchange Wex Sentenced in Russia
Aleksey Bilyuchenko, co-founder of Wex, the successor of the infamous Russian crypto exchange BTC-e, will spend only a couple of years in prison. The Russian, who is charged in the U.S. with money laundering, has been sentenced in his homeland as the only defendant in a case over the collapse of Wex which brought heavy losses to its customers.
Wex Co-founder Admits Guilt for Exchange’s Crash, Asks Putin to Be Sent to Ukraine
One of the founders of the crypto exchange Wex, which succeeded once the largest coin trading platform in Russia, BTC-e, received three and a half years of prison time and 500,000-ruble ($5,000) fine for his role in its operation, Russian crypto news outlet Bits.media reported, quoting a Telegram post by journalist and blogger Irek Murtazin.
The mild sentence comes after Aleksey Bilyuchenko, who has been accused in Russia of embezzling several billion rubles in customer funds, sought leniency from Russian President Vladimir Putin while the state prosecutor asked for a less severe punishment which was then reduced even further by the judge.
BTC-e, believed to have been used by cybercriminals to store, transfer and launder billions of U.S. dollars in illicit proceeds, was shut down by Western law enforcement in July 2017. Wex which was founded after that, went offline in 2018, causing customers to lose up to 16 billion rubles (over $167 million today), according to one estimate.
Court documents unsealed on June 7, 2023, in the Northern District of California, claim that Bilyuchenko worked with the alleged BTC-e operator Alexander Vinnik and others to run the exchange between 2011 and the summer of 2017.
While Vinnik was arrested in Greece that same year and eventually extradited to the United States in August 2022 to face trial, Bilyuchenko, who is still wanted by the FBI and has been charged by U.S. authorities with money laundering conspiracy and operating an unlicensed money services business, was detained in March 2022 in Russia and became the only defendant in the Wex case there.
According to Bilyuchenko’s own testimony, read by Russian prosecutors at a hearing on Sept. 6, he was Wex’s system administrator although he controlled large amounts of money, some of which he distributed to security officials and other persons who promised protection. It also became known that the owners of the exchange, reportedly affiliated with sanctioned Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, lost 3.17 billion rubles (around $33 million).
At the next and final hearing, on Sept. 20, it was revealed that the defendant had appealed to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu with a request to be released from custody, spared punishment, and sent to the “zone of the special military operation” in Ukraine. Observers also believe that he could help return some of the victims’ funds.
However, the state prosecution requested that he be sent to prison for four and a half years while Judge Varvara Oganova cut that to three and a half. Bilyuchenko, who changed his last name to Ivanov and pleaded guilty ahead of the trial, has already served a year and a half in pre-trial detention. He will also have to pay a fine of 500,000 rubles instead of the 1 million ruble fine asked by the prosecutors.
Do you think ordinary Wex customers will get their money back? Share your thoughts on the case in the comments section below.