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Hacker and Security Expert Aleksander Vinnik, CrytpoCurrency, and IRA Linked

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posted on Apr, 30 2019 @ 10:57 PM
Stumbled across this Russian article from 2017 in English regarding Igor Ashmanov and Natalia Kasperskaya hiring lawyer for Aleksander Vinnik.

According to this article

Ruspres has found a link between hacker Aleksandr Vinnik, arrested in Greece, and the family of ex-wife of Kaspersky Lab head Natalia Kasperskaya and Igor Ashmanov, managers of InfoWatch and Ashmanov and partners, respectively. According to journalists, the companies of Vinnik and Ashmanov have the same addresses. In particular, both CreditSales LLC, owned by Vinnik, and Igor Ashmanov and Ilya Gershevich Stavisky’s Informatika LLC are located at 7 Bolshoy Kozikhinsky Lane, Build. 2, the agency reports. Aleksandr Vinnik was arrested on July 25 in Greece at the request of the United States. The US prosecutors accuse the Russian of laundering at least $4 billion since 2011 via the website BTC-e he created, as well as of hacking the Japanese cryptocurrency stock exchange Mt. Gox. About 300 thousand bitcoins had been stolen from the stock exchange (or 850 thousand, which is about $500 million at the rate of 2014, as Vedomosti reported), and then withdrawn via BTC-e to Vinnik’s accounts in the banks of Cyprus and Latvia. In case of extradition to the USA, the hacker faces up to 55 years in prison and a fine of $12 million. Vinnik denies all accusations against him.

Emphasis mine

Why is this interesting? Few reasons.
Igor Ashmanov has an interesting background. Turns out he's a co-founder of the Internet Research Agency (IRA) referenced in Mueller's report regarding the Russian interference in the 2016 election. Source

Referred to in a NYT article in 06/07/2015 as "The Agency," 2016 wasn't the first year the IRA meddled in our election. For some reason, it's not mentioned much by the mainstream media as additional context. Excerpt from 2015 article
It was such a secret he even figured out where it was, and traveled there and took a picture of it. He begins the article describing several hoaxes which began June 2014, one involving a chemical plant and a fake story of a chemical explosion that had been hoaxing people with pictures, etc.

Who was behind all of this? When I stumbled on it last fall, I had an idea. I was already investigating a shadowy organization in St. Petersburg, Russia, that spreads false information on the Internet. It has gone by a few names, but I will refer to it by its best known: the Internet Research Agency. The agency had become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities, including on Twitter, in order to create the illusion of a massive army of supporters; it has often been called a “troll farm.” The more I investigated this group, the more links I discovered between it and the hoaxes. In April, I went to St. Petersburg to learn more about the agency and its brand of information warfare, which it has aggressively deployed against political opponents at home, Russia’s perceived enemies abroad and, more recently, me.

The journalist writes he's interviewing a former employee from there. While it seems unlikely former employees would be allowed to speak freely with NYT journalists in June of 2015, we find out further down in the article she was hired in to infiltrate them for a local independent Russian paper...

Every day at the Internet Research Agency was essentially the same, Savchuk told me. The first thing employees did upon arriving at their desks was to switch on an Internet proxy service, which hid their I.P. addresses from the places they posted; those digital addresses can sometimes be used to reveal the real identity of the poster. Savchuk would be given a list of the opinions she was responsible for promulgating that day. Workers received a constant stream of “technical tasks” — point-by-point exegeses of the themes they were to address, all pegged to the latest news. Ukraine was always a major topic, because of the civil war there between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian Army; Savchuk and her co-workers would post comments that disparaged the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, and highlighted Ukrainian Army atrocities. Russian domestic affairs were also a major topic. Last year, after a financial crisis hit Russia and the ruble collapsed, the professional trolls left optimistic posts about the pace of recovery. Savchuk also says that in March, after the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered, she and her entire team were moved to the department that left comments on the websites of Russian news outlets and ordered to suggest that the opposition itself had set up the murder.

Further down

copied dozens of documents to her personal email account and also plied her co-workers for information. She made a clandestine video of the office. In February, she leaked it all to a reporter for Moi Raion, a local newspaper known for its independent reporting. The documents, together with her story, offered the most detailed look yet into the daily life of a pro-Kremlin troll. Though she quit the agency the day the exposé was published, she was continuing her surveillance from the outside. She brought a camera to our dinner in hopes of documenting the changing of the shifts, which she planned to post to the VKontakte page of Information Peace, the group she founded to fight the agency.

This is an interesting side note but not the point of this post. Just would be a waste not to point it out for those who don't read the NYT article.

Several Russian media outlets have claimed that the agency is funded by Evgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch restaurateur called “the Kremlin’s chef” in the independent press for his lucrative government contracts and his close relationship with Putin. When a reporter from the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta infiltrated the agency posing as a job seeker, she discovered that one of the team leaders was an employee of Prigozhin’s Concord holding company. (The reporter was familiar with her because the woman was famous among journalists for having been deployed by Prigozhin to spy on Novaya Gazeta.) The suspicion around Prigozhin was bolstered when emails leaked by hackers showed an accountant at Concord approving payments to the agency.

If you recall, Mueller's report said the IRA was being funded by Yevgeniy Prigozhin "and companies he controlled."

I guess I'm running out of space. Maybe this will end up needing to be 2-3 posts.

posted on Apr, 30 2019 @ 11:24 PM
Ok, back to Igor Ashmanov. In a Russian tech magazine Bit, Igor is being interviewed. This is from 2013. We learn he's an expert in artificial intelligence, and how his company came about.

Ashmanov & Partners

Ashmanov & Partners — Russian privately held company specializing in Information technologies, online marketing, software development (i.e., search engines), and AI-powered software. Founded in 2001 by Igor Ashmanov and ex-Rambler top managers, it has multiple subsidiaries in the same industry.

Note: Rambler is a Russian search engine and one of the biggest Russian web portals.

In 2010, Ashmanov & Partners and InfoWatch co-founded Kribrum (Latin: решето), a social media monitoring service for brand management, data leaks prevention and information security. Company's clients are large Russian and international companies with multiple brands who get from hundreds to tens of thousands mentions online daily, which makes it impractical to track them manually. Kribrum is capable of automatically analyzing text in English, Russian, and Arabic, and can be configured for particular industry's specifics. As reported by Vedomosti in 2013, monitoring a brand on social media with Kribrum costs between 50K and 200K rubles monthly.

So, before I go into this guy's wife and her companies, Kaspersky Lab and InfoWatch, I want to go to this article.
OCCRP: 'US and Russia Spar Over Accused Crypto-Launderer' Source

A clash between Russia and the US over the fate of a fallen cryptocurrency king has escalated to the Kremlin, where President Vladimir Putin raised the matter directly with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. At issue is who will prosecute Alexander Vinnik, a Russian citizen accused of helping launder at least US$ 4 billion through one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges. Vinnik’s odyssey through the US, Russian, Greek, and French legal systems began in sunny Chalkidiki, Greece, in July 2017. His annual family vacation there slammed to a halt with his arrest at the hands of some 20 plainclothes police officers. Vinnik, then 37, was known in the murky world of Moscow digital currency exchangers as “Sasha WME.” According to a 21-count US indictment unsealed by the Northern District of California the day after his arrest, he was an online money launderer and the brains behind the now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange known as BTC-e, once one of the world’s largest.

Further down

US prosecutors estimate Vinnik helped launder between $4 billion and $9 billion in bitcoin tied to cybercrime, drug trafficking, public corruption, and tax refund fraud schemes.

On a side note here, and understanding nothing about cryptocurrency, I thought this wasn't real money? Don't they keep telling us cryptocurrency doesn't hold the value of a fiat currency? How do you launder non-money? I'm confused here, but let's continue.

The Russian cyber-espionage group known as Fancy Bear was among BTC-e’s clients, according to the blockchain forensics company Elliptic, and US prosecutors allege Fancy Bear in turn used bitcoin to fund hacking the Democratic National Committee. US prosecutors have alleged in 2018 that Fancy Bear is actually part of the GRU, the acronym for Russian military intelligence, while other security firms and experts speculate the group works in cooperation with the GRU. According to media reports, BTC-e processed $66 million worth of anonymous transactions every day at its peak in June 2017.

June 2017 was the peak? May 2017 was when Mueller was appointed Special Prosecutor.

No sooner was Vinnik detained on the American arrest order than Russia filed its own extradition request on separate and dubious petty-theft charges in the amount of $11,000 – a veritable jaywalking citation in comparison. The Russian request may have been an attempt to keep Vinnik from falling into US hands.

Well, yeah. Now we know who's funding his lawyer.
One interesting thing I haven't pointed out yet is Igor Ashmanov is a Skolkovo Foundation expert.

Skolkovo Foundation was started by Viktor Vekselberg, a person who interestingly is NOT in the Mueller report but had his assets frozen. A person the mainstream media pointed to often as being a focus of Mueller's interest. In May of 2018, it was reported he was searched at an airport. Ya know, the guy who gave Michael Cohen money. The Michael Cohen with Ukrainian ties. The Michael Cohen the Mueller report states is the [only] person who negotiated with I.C. Expert over any potential Trump Moscow real estate deal.

Assets totaling between $1.5 billion and $2 billion have been frozen as a result of sanctions imposed on Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg and his Renova Group conglomerate, two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Saturday.

Renova Group hosted a dinner in 2012 in which Diane Feinstein attended and a statement was read for then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not in attendance.

The gala at city hall featured speeches by Vekselberg, Senator Dianne Feinstein - who sat next to Vekselberg at dinner and told the crowd that she was half Russian: her mother was born in St. Petersburg - and Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky, and messages from Russian President Vladimir Putin (read by Sergei Kislyak, Russian Ambassador the U.S.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (read by former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle). A video of the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra playing a Tchaikovsky symphony – overlaid with stunning images of the Fort Ross park -- and performances by members of the Bolshoi Theater Opera gave the evening a distinctive Russian feel.
Guests at the event included former Citigroup Chairman and CEO John Reed, who now serves as Chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and VMware cofounder and former CEO Diane Greene, an MIT trustee. In April, the Skolkovo Foundation, chaired by Vekselberg, announced that it was collaborating with MIT on the creation of a new science and technology graduate university outside Moscow called SK Tech. Vekselberg approached MIT about the university, which will be located within a new science and technology development center – a Russian Silicon Valley – in Skolkovo, a Moscow suburb. “We are starting with 30 students and it will grow … to 1,000,” Vekselberg told FORBES.

Ran out of space again.

edit on 30-4-2019 by ucanthandlethetruth because: fixed

posted on Apr, 30 2019 @ 11:45 PM
Further down, and maybe the most important.

All this activity in San Francisco and environs took place at a time when the fate of Vekselberg’s most valuable investment, oil and gas company TNK-BP, is being decided. Russian oil giant Rosneft has offered to buy not only BP’s 50% stake in TNK-BP, but also the remaining 50% stake owned by four Russian tycoons, including Vekselberg and Blavatnik. Rosneft is reported to have offered $28 billion for the Russian tycoons’ 50% stake.

In Oct 2013, we find out the Rosneft deal made Vekselberg a very, very, rich man.
The Guardian

He may not be the most famous businessman in Russia, but Viktor Vekselberg is now the richest. That is the status the natural resources investor has been accorded by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, following AAR's sale of its 50% stake in TNK-BP to Rosneft for $28bn (£17.5bn) on Monday. Vekselberg is one of five Russian oligarchs who control the AAR consortium – alongside Mikhail Fridman, Leonard Blavatnik, German Khan and Alexey Kuzmichev – and his latest deal means he is now worth $18bn and the 40th richest person in the world.

Recall that Rosneft was the Russian gas company later going private in 2016 shortly after the election, showing up in Christopher Steele's dossier on Trump.

The reason I find Igor being a Skolkovo Foundation expert interesting, is because he's also the co-founder of the Internet Research Agency, and the Skolkovo Foundation was started by Vekselberg interesting is the rise of the Skolkovo Foundation all took place during the time of the Obama Administration/Hillary Clinton Sec of State "Russian Reset."

Hillary Clinton, who had a former US Ambassador to Russia read her remarks at a dinner in 2012, only four years prior to the 2016 election, a dinner hosted by the Renova Group Viktor Vekselberg, is she is the one who worked closely with Silicon Valley to have them partner on technology deals with Moscow.

How is none of this important to Mueller's report?

Natalia Kasperskaya, igor's wife, Source

is a Russian IT entrepreneur, President of the 'InfoWatch' Group of companies, and co-founder and former CEO of antivirus security software company 'Kaspersky Lab'. In addition, she is one of the wealthiest women in Russia and one of the most influential figures in the Russian IT industry.

The details surrounding the Rosneft privatization deal remain murky. Over two years later, Reuters reported the Russian bank VTB still financed a large portion of the deal.

But now, nearly two years after the sale was first announced, nine sources with knowledge of the transaction have told Reuters that VTB, a Russian state-owned bank, itself financed a large share of the acquisition, undermining the deal’s stated aim to bring foreign money into the country. Based on accounts from five of the sources, the value of the Russian loan to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund is around $6 billion. VTB denied it issued a loan to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, called the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

What is the most interesting about QIA is its link to the Weinstein brothers. Yes, that Weinstein.
Qatar Investment Authority

I find what's NOT in the Mueller report more interesting than what's in it.

posted on May, 1 2019 @ 12:01 AM

Let's not forget for some reason Putin felt the need to call any women accusing Harvey Weinstein "prostitutes."

Igor was the only Russian to write an op-ed in a Russia paper to say the country should go to bat for Vinnik: OCCRP

He argued that Vinnik is “a carrier of completely unique theoretical and practical knowledge in the most advanced areas of information technology” and that his expertise is “vital for those technological breakthroughs that the leadership of the country speaks about.” He framed Vinnik’s arrest as an American seizure of a “strategic intellectual resource.”

So what is the Igor Ashmanov-funded lawyer saying in Vinnik's defense?

Vinnik’s Russian defense lawyer, Timofey Musatov, disputes that interpretation. “BTC-e is just a website that allows people to use new technology and digital currency, which only recently became exchangeable for fiat [physical] money,” Musatov said. “You call it an ‘exchange,’ but it’s not a financial exchange similar to stock or currency exchanges. It’s simply a platform.” The indictment against Vinnik is flawed, Musatov said, because it relies in part on statements by two discredited US agents who bought bitcoin on the website and alleged that their backgrounds had not been properly checked. The men are former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Mark Force and ex-Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges, who were convicted of funneling cryptocurrency stolen from the 2013 Silk Road dark web drug-trafficking probe into BTC-e.

Interestingly, in one of the most recent news reports regarding his status there is an article regarding the Greek police uncovering a Russian crime world plot to murder the hacker.

The murder plot, the source added, isn’t connected to any special services, as it is “linked to the criminal world.” It added that it all began when Vinnik’s extradition to the United States was blocked, as there are individuals who are “extremely interested in him not coming to Russia.” Per his words, the assassination plot was ordered by someone in Russia. Notably, Vinnik reportedly wrote an acknowledgement of guilt in Russia, and is set to testify in the country to assist investigators. This, after he admitted to knowing about crimes “committed in the sphere of financial technologies.”

posted on May, 1 2019 @ 12:15 AM
This is a bit tangential to the topic, but Kasperksy anti-virus has been a fantastic product for me. Kind of troubling that their lab has been involved in some of this. Though I guess it makes sense given the Ban of it's products from government use.
edit on 1-5-2019 by dubiousatworst because: because ban

posted on May, 1 2019 @ 06:15 AM

originally posted by: dubiousatworst
This is a bit tangential to the topic, but Kasperksy anti-virus has been a fantastic product for me. Kind of troubling that their lab has been involved in some of this. Though I guess it makes sense given the Ban of it's products from government use.

Yeah, the government seems as thrilled with Kaspersky software as they are with Huawei’s.

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