In the past, kidnappers abducted their victims for cash ransoms or to leverage power in their favor. Recently, with the proliferation of digital cash, these bandits are adding a new reward to their list of bounties; cryptocurrencies.
Pavel Lerner, a Russian crypto investor, programmer and business mogul was abducted in Kiev, Ukraine on December 26, 2017. According to Reuters, the managing director of EXMO cryptocurrency exchange was taken by masked men close to his office in Kiev.
According to reports, officials investigated the matter and published the plate number of the vehicle the bandits used in the operation. Such kidnapping attempts are not uncommon, but this is the first case linked to bitcoin stated Anton Geraschenko, an adviser to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Pavel Lerner is a citizen of Russia, and also holds a Polish residence permit. Lerner plays a vital role in many major blockchain and cryptocurrency companies in Ukraine. The most important being his status at the exchange, EXMO, which is registered with Companies House in the UK, but operates primarily in Ukraine.
In an interview with officials of local cryptocurrency site ForkLog, EXMO Public Relations department told officials that the kidnapping had not disrupted the company’s operations and that customers funds and are safe:
“We are doing everything possible to speed up the search of Pavel Lerner. Any information regarding his whereabouts is very much appreciated. Despite the situation, the exchange is working as usual. We also want to stress that nature of Pavel’s job at EXMO doesn’t assume access either to storages or any personal data of users. All users funds are absolutely safe.”
Since initial reports of his kidnapping on December 29, Lerner has been returned to safety after an anonymous individual paid a $1 million ransom. Exmo added that “At the moment, he is safe, and there was no physical harm inflicted on him, [nevertheless], Pavel is currently in a state of major stress, therefore, he will not provide any official comments in the coming days.”
Determining a Motive
As reported by Russian crypto news site, BitsMedia, Lerner’s abduction may have been similar to the case of Alexander Vinnik who was detained in Thessaloniki this summer in connection with various criminal activities. U.S authorities have also accused Vinnik of being part of the Mt.Gox hack.
Pavel Lerna, on the other hand, has no criminal records. He is, however, currently in a court case with the Russian authorities in which Lerner is suing officials for blocking his original Exmo.com domain.
With the continuous increase in value and adoption of cryptocurrencies, crypto investors and enthusiasts are advised to abstain from showing off their cryptoassets on social media and also keep holdings as secure as possible at all times.