In a surprising turn of events, Aleksey Bilyuchenko, one of the co-founders of the notorious cryptocurrency exchange Wex, formerly known as BTC-e, has been sentenced to a mere three and a half years in prison and fined 500,000 rubles (approximately $5,000). This sentence, delivered in his homeland of Russia, is the latest development in a long and complex saga that has left countless customers reeling from significant losses.
The Crypto Exchange Rollercoaster
BTC-e, once the largest cryptocurrency trading platform in Russia, was known to have been utilized by cybercriminals for storing, transferring, and laundering vast sums of illicit funds, amounting to billions of U.S. dollars. Western law enforcement authorities brought the hammer down on BTC-e in July 2017, shutting it down.
In the wake of this closure, Wex emerged as its successor, offering a glimmer of hope to users who had funds tied up in BTC-e. However, Wex itself suffered a catastrophic collapse in 2018, leading to the loss of an estimated 16 billion rubles, which is equivalent to over $167 million today.
Bilyuchenko’s Troubled Past
Aleksey Bilyuchenko’s name became synonymous with the fall of Wex. He faced allegations of embezzling several billion rubles belonging to Wex customers, a grave accusation that, in other circumstances, might have led to a lengthy prison term.
However, Bilyuchenko took an unconventional path. He sought leniency from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is often perceived as a key figure in such cases. Remarkably, the state prosecutor also pushed for a less severe punishment, which the judge ultimately reduced even further.
A Surprising Plea
During the legal proceedings, Aleksey Bilyuchenko revealed shocking details about his role at Wex. He confessed to being the exchange’s system administrator while having control over significant sums of money. In a jaw-dropping revelation, he disclosed that he had distributed some of these funds to security officials and other individuals who had promised protection. Additionally, it came to light that the exchange’s owners, allegedly affiliated with the sanctioned Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, had lost a staggering 3.17 billion rubles, equivalent to approximately $33 million.
The Ukraine Twist
In a final, unexpected twist, it was revealed that Bilyuchenko had appealed directly to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. His request? To be released from custody, spared punishment, and sent to the “zone of the special military operation” in Ukraine. Observers speculate that his involvement in the Ukrainian conflict could facilitate the recovery of some of the funds lost by victims of the Wex collapse.
A Light Sentence
Despite the gravity of the charges against him and his potential involvement in a conflict zone, the state prosecution originally sought a four-and-a-half-year prison term for Bilyuchenko. However, Judge Varvara Oganova ultimately handed down a three-and-a-half-year sentence. This reduction was coupled with a fine of 500,000 rubles, significantly less than the 1 million rubles requested by the prosecution.
As the cryptocurrency community watches this unfolding saga, questions remain about the fate of those who lost their investments in Wex and whether Bilyuchenko’s peculiar plea will yield any positive outcomes for the victims.