Russia hit by wave of bomb threats related to bitcoin fraud

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Bomb threats demand that Malofeyev pay back 120 bitcoins worth almost $900,000, allegedly stolen from a crashed cryptocurrency exchange.
Image Credit: Screengrab

MOSCOW: Dozens of courts, kindergartens and malls in Russia’s largest cities were evacuated on Monday over anonymous bomb threats that appear to be related to the collapse of a cryptocurrency exchange in 2017, news agencies reported.

Since November, Russia has seen a wave of similar incidents where the anonymous perpetrators accuse Russian businessman, Konstantin Malofeyev, of bitcoin fraud.

Malofeyev is under international sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

In the latest incidents on Monday, the head of Saint Petersburg courts’ press service, Darya Lebedeva, published screen shots of emails that claimed bombs had been planted in courts, as well as kindergartens, supermarkets, shopping malls and maternity hospitals.

Similar emails have been sent almost daily to courts in Saint Petersburg and Moscow since late November, Interfax reported, with threats also made to plant bombs in the metro, hospitals, schools, none of which proved real.

It estimated 770,000 people had been evacuated in Moscow and bomb threats had targeted some 8,000 buildings since then.

Last week, 15 courts in Moscow were evacuated after threats, Interfax news agency reported, citing the city’s central court.

Saint Petersburg courts returned to work shortly after evacuations with no bombs found, but several received repeat threats, Lebedeva said.

The bomb threats, including those sent on Monday, demand that Malofeyev pay back 120 bitcoins worth almost $900,000, allegedly stolen from a crashed cryptocurrency exchange.

The threats refer to WEX, a now-defunct spin-off from BTC-e, once one of the world’s largest and most widely used digital currency exchanges, where national currencies can be exchanged for bitcoins.

The alleged head of BTC-e, Russian Alexander Vinnik, was arrested in Greece in 2017 and faces money laundering charges in several countries.

Malofeyev is a businessman and founder of an investment fund. He is on United States and European Union sanctions lists for allegedly funding pro-Russian separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

He also runs an Orthodox Christian television channel that airs conservative views and chairs a pro-life foundation.

Malofeyev has denied any involvement in WEX or stealing bitcoins. He refused to answer detailed questions for an investigation published by the BBC Russian Service this month.

Bomb threats have also been sent to Malofeyev’s Tsargrad channel, its website says.

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