PARIS, February 18. /TASS/. Paris’ Court of Appeal ruled on Monday to keep Russian cyber fraud suspect Alexander Vinnik in custody.
Vinnik is charged with identity theft and extortion.
The court motivated its verdict by fears that otherwise he could destroy evidence and collude with his accomplices.
Vinnik’s defense attorneys said they would challenge the ruling the court of cassation. "We think this decision was made beforehand. Regrettably, the history of Alexander Vinnik’s case seems to be made of pre-arranged decisions. We cannot describe this tribunal as independent and unbiased," Zoe Constantopulu, one of Vinnik’s lawyers, said, adding that the court session was organized just for appearance.
The hearing lasted for about six hours with three breaks. The first one was requested by Vinnik’s attorneys who said they had had no possibility to speak with their client tete-a-tete ever since he had been extradited to France. The court satisfied their request. According to lawyer Timofey Musatov, the 30-minute meeting took place in a special room in the presence of seven policemen.
After the break, the court heard Vinnik’s attorneys who asked for leniency, saying their client had never been suspected in serious crimes and had not attempted escape over the entire period of custody. They said the Russian embassy was ready to rent an apartment for the man, stressing that the real estate enjoyed no diplomatic protection.
When it was Vinnik’s turn to speak, the judge asked him not to read out a ready text but make an oral statement but agreed to hear him retell what was written in his papers after he had said he had no possibility to speak to his lawyers. He told about violations of his rights in France and in Greece and pointed to the fact that no documents about his status - either that of a witness, a defendant or a suspect - had been provided to him.
The judge cut his speech short and asked him to tell about his incomes, the family situation. When the defense lawyers asked to hear the man to the end, the judge announced a break and left the courtroom to come back later and read out the verdict.
This break was the first opportunity for Vinnik to speak to his mother who had arrived in Paris to be present at the hearing. Their previous meeting took place in Greece. His mother told him she was suffering from cancer, like his wife.
She also said the man was deprived of a possibility to meet with his family and defense attorneys.
"He is kept in custody and is banned from speaking with anyone, either with the defense attorneys or the family," she said, adding that he had not been allowed to make a phone call to his son on his birthday on February 16. The French side, in her words, explained it by "security considerations."
According to Vera Vinnik, her son cannot even speak to his wife who is suffering from cancer and her health condition has deteriorated dramatically in the recent days. "We did not tell her he is in France. She is living her last days," Vera added.
"My son is being tried not because he has committed any crime but merely because he is Russian," she said.
Alexander Vinnik, a Russian IT specialist, was detained while vacationing in Greece on July 25, 2017 at the United States’ request, where he is accused of laundering four to nine billion US dollars through a no longer existent Internet exchange of cryptocurrencies BTC-e. On January 23, he was extradited to France. The final decision was made by Greece’s State Council, or the Supreme Court of Greece. Vinnik’s extradition was also sought by Russia and the United States. The Russian dismissed all the charges brought against him and expressed the readiness to return home.
On January 28, a Paris court ruled to keep Vinnik under arrest. The five-hour court session was held behind closed doors and, according to the defense attorneys, with numerous violations of law. Neither the defense team nor Vinnik himself were allowed to speak during these hearings.
On February 13, the Russian Embassy said that notes of protest over the Vinnik case had been sent to the French Foreign Ministry.