Kidnappers in Ukraine have released Pavel Lerner, 40, the managing director of a UK-based cryptocurrency exchange who had been abducted on December 26, in Kiev. The kidnappers received a $1 million worth of bitcoin ransom, an adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister told Reuters.

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Pavel Lerner is the managing director of cryptocurrency exchange EXMO, a company based in Polegate, England. Involved in a number of cryptocurrency and blockchain startups in Ukraine, Lerner was kidnapped around noon on December 26, while leaving his office situated in the Kiev city center.

Video surveillance footage showed unidentified men wearing dark clothes and balaclavas drag Lerner into a black Mercedes-Benz Vito with the license plate number AA 2063 MT. Subsequent investigative actions carried out by the Kiev police have revealed that the number plates on the minibus had been stolen.

A ransom of more than $1 million worth of bitcoin was paid for Lerner’s safe release.

It was unclear who paid the bitcoin ransom. Lerner’s work at EXMO did not involve access to the financial assets of its users, the company said, adding that the platform was operating normally.

“At the moment, he is safe, and there was no physical harm inflicted on him,” the company’s statement said. “Nevertheless, Pavel is currently in a state of major stress, therefore, he will not provide any official comments in the coming days.”

The kidnappers are still unidentified and at large, and multiple criminal investigations are currently underway, Ukrainian authorities said.

“This is the first such case in Ukraine linked to bitcoins,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, told Reuters.

UK-based cryptocurrency exchange EXMO has 900,000 users as of December 2017. The company announced on December 28 that it had been hit by a denial-of-service attack. However, EXMO representatives have made it clear that the nature of Lerner’s job at the company doesn’t assume access to storage or any personal data, reassuring users that “all funds are absolutely safe”.

Image source: Paul Lerner/ Facebook

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