Russian lobbies to be part of potential prisoner swap for Evan Gershkovich, Paul Whelan
Washington — A Russian accused of money laundering is lobbying to be included in a possible prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia, a court filing revealed.
Alexander Vinnik, a Russian national who allegedly laundered billions of dollars through an illicit cryptocurrency exchange, was extradited in August from Greece to California, where he remains in custody.
Vinnik was arrested in Greece in 2017 at the request of the U.S. He was 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 U.S.
In a May 19 court filing, Vinnik’s lawyer argued for modifying a protective order on his case to ramp up efforts to have him included in any potential prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia.
“Mr. Vinnik should be permitted to … answer the accusations against him and advocate publicly for his inclusion in a prisoner swap,” his attorney wrote. “It appears most likely that the Department of Justice opposes permitting Mr. Vinnik to discuss the case because it opposes prisoner swaps and does not want to see him returned to Russia.”
The filing says the U.S. previously offered to trade Vinnik in exchange for WNBA star Brittney Griner, “but the exchange took a different turn.” Griner, who was convicted on drug charges in Russia, was released in December in a prisoner swap that sent convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia.
The U.S. is still seeking the release of Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March on espionage charges. The U.S. says the charges against them are baseless and considers them wrongfully detained.
“Numerous individuals with knowledge of prisoner swap negotiations have informed defense counsel that it is important that Mr. Vinnik and his defense team advocate publicly for his inclusion in a trade in order to maximize the chances of such an exchange,” the court filing said.
Vinnik’s lawyer said “discussion between the two countries are ongoing” about a potential prisoner swap.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the court filing.
The U.S. has given 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 whether Russia has engaged on the “serious proposal” Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered for the release of Whelan. Blinken said in March that the U.S. had made an offer and urged Moscow to accept it.
“We oftentimes have found that it is not conducive to our efforts — to return wrongful detainees home — to speak about the details of those efforts,” Miller said.