Russian programmer and cryptocurrency investor Pavel Lerner has been kidnapped in Kiev, according to Ukrainian and Russian media reports. He is the managing director of Exmo, a major UK-based exchange popular with Russians for accepting ruble payments. Lerner is also well known in Ukraine where he has startups dealing with mining operations and blockchain technology development.
Russian Crypto Entrepreneur Kidnapped
The Russian-born IT specialist stopped answering phone calls around noon on December 26, and was reported missing by friends and colleagues later the same day, according to Strana.ua. Quoting a police source, the website revealed that Lerner had been dragged into a van by unidentified attackers wearing masks. He was supposedly abducted close to his office on the “Stepan Bandera” boulevard in the Ukrainian capital.
Investigators in Kiev are considering all possible leads in a case that they have described as kidnapping. Security officials have published the registration number of the vehicle used in the attack and are currently conducting search operations.
Exmo’s PR department confirmed media reports in a statement and appealed for any information that could lead to finding Lerner, BitNovosti reported. The company also insisted its operations were not affected and assured its customers that he did not have direct access to cryptocurrency accounts or other personal data.
Is This a New Vinnik Case?
Russian media have covered Lerner’s disappearing drawing parallels with another case involving a Russian national with cryptocurrency background. The 38-year-old Alexander Vinnik was detained in Thessaloniki this summer while on a vacation in Northern Greece. US authorities have accused Vinnik of crimes related to the Mt. Gox hack and requested his extradition.
American prosecutors claim the Russian has facilitated the laundering of over $4 billion worth of bitcoin stolen in the hack. Vinnik, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the BTC-e exchange used for that purpose, has denied the accusations. This month the Supreme Court in Athens rejected his appeal against the extradition procedure, despite objections from Moscow. Russian authorities also want him back home where he has been charged with stealing some $10,000 in Russian currency.
Unlike the operators of the shadowy BTC-e, Pavel Lerner, who has also resided in Poland and Spain, has never attempted to hide his association with Exmo. The exchange he is managing is well-known in cryptocurrency circles in both Russia and Ukraine for processing ruble transactions.
Last year Exmo’s original dot com domain was blocked by the Russian federal telecom supervisory body Roskomnadzor but its new internet address exmo.me has been registered under Lerner’s name in Krasnoyarsk. Exmo is fighting the regulator’s decision in court, thus becoming one of the very few crypto businesses to actively oppose the state-sanctioned clampdown.
According to BitsMedia, the presumed kidnapping of Pavel Lerner may turn out to be a detention; a “second Vinnik case”, with charges leveled against the 40-year-old Russian entrepreneur. On the other hand, his abduction may simply be related to his many business interests in several countries. And while the true motives of the perpetrators remain unknown, “crypto ransom” also sounds like a plausible explanation.
Why do you think Pavel Lerner was kidnapped? Let us know in the comments section below.
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