A Russian suspected of hacking is now a step closer to being extradited to the United States
The FBI have accused Yevgeniy Nikulin, A Russian national, of hacking LinkedIn, Formspring and Dropbox. Russia and the United States have now put out requests for him to be extradited.
A judge, in the Czech Republic, has given a tentative approval for Nikulin to be extradited to the United States. The tentative approval came in number of days ago, after a court hearing was conducting inside a high security Prague prison.
Nikulin was arrested in October of 2016 whilst out for dinner at a restaurant in the Czech Republic. He appeared at the hearing on Tuesday after months in solitary confinement in the Prague prison.
The FBI have accused Nikulin of hacking a significant number of passwords on LinkedIn, Formspring and Dropback in 2012. Nikulin’s arrest occurred three days prior to the Obama administration officially accusing Russia of interfering in the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Nikulin’s and some of the best extradition lawyers working for him, have declared the case a “set up”. He has stated that he is not a hacker but instead a sales man, dealing in luxury cars. His lawyer went on to comment that Nikulin was far from a hacker. He suggested that his computer skills fell short of a super hacker and he wasn’t capable of more than checking emails.
However, special agents within the FBI believe otherwise. In an affidavit the special agent lists a number of aliases Nikulin used to hack the sites. The special agent has gone on to say that there is evidence from witnesses, ISP records and electronic interceptions which prove he is an expert hacker.
The affidavit from the special agent links Nikulin only to the hacking of the three social media sites in 2012. It does not link him to the election hacking of the United States democratic party. However, a letter emerged that Nikulin wrote whilst in prison stating that he had been interrogated by the secret agent in February of 2017 and that election hacking had been raised during the interrogation. Exerts of the letter has since been published in English Newspaper, The Guardian, however, Nikulin’s claim of interrogation has not yet been substantiated.
According to the letter, the secret agent demanded a confession from Nikulin, saying that if he admitted to hacking the servers of the DNC then the current United States government promised good treatment. Nikulin continued that he rejected this offer.
A document within the court papers has stated that an interrogation of Nikulin was conducted on the 7th February 2017. The assistant US attorney was present, alongside four Czech intelligence officers. It states that he was read his rights, pleaded not guilty and the interrogation was completed within 29 minutes.
As mentioned above, Nikulin’s has some of the best extradition lawyers working on his behalf, and they have suggested that the record of the interrogation was incomplete and that Nikulin had fallen victim to an FBI plot. Other individuals close to the case have dismissed the idea of a conspiracy, they have however conceded that there are several unusual elements surrounding the case.
One theory made by an American journalist, suggests that FBI has been rounding up Russian hackers. He believes they are doing so, so they will inform on other hackers and thus find all the individuals involved in the hacking.
Nikulin had crossed the Belarus-Poland border on the 1st October 2016. He posted a picture of himself in Warsaw on the 3rd October 2016 and was arrested on the 5th October whilst at dinner in Prague’s old town.
Immediately after Nikulin’s arrest, Russia filed their own extradition request. The reuest was based on a minor electronic theft committed in 2009. Nikulin has some of the best extradition lawyers working on his case who have stated that Russia’s arrest request is unconvincing. Howver, they continued that Nikulin would be willing to accept extradition to the United States. It has been suggested by several extradition experts that the arrest request was a thinly veiled attempt at stopping Nikulin being extradited to the United States.
It has been reported that the United States and Russia have placed considerable pressure on Prague to have Nikulin extradited. It has been reported in the Czech paper the Respekt that Russia has informally offered a swap of Nikulin for a number of Czech citizens who are wanted by Prague for a series of financial crimes.
The hearing on Tuesday afternoon was held in a small room inside of the Prague prison, the measure was considered necessary however, this meant there were only four journalists within the room that were able to witness and report on the issues. Nikulin’s top extradition lawyer has commented that in his 25 year career he had never before witnessed such a proceeding, not even for serial killers or individuals involved in serious organized crimes.
Nikulin’s mother appeared at the hearing, she stated that her son looked like skin and bones and that the decision to extradite him was political. She refused to pass comment on the nature of the allegations against Nikulin.
The judge who oversaw the case held that the requests made by both the Russian government and the United States government, met the legal requirements for an extradition request. Some of the best extradition lawyer in the country have advised Nikulin to appeal against the United States extradition but not the Russian extradition request.
After all appeals, have been heard and ruled upon, it will be at the discretion of the Czech Justice minister to decide where Nikulin will be extradited to.
It has been suggested by informed sources that the decision will be to extradite to the United States.
However, the Minister cannot currently comment on the case.