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Extradition hearing in Bloomberg hack/extortion

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The extradition hearing of two men accused of attempting to extort $200,000 from the founder of the Bloomberg financial news service began in London today.

Oleg Zezov and Igor Yarimika have been held on remand since their arrest in London last August as part of a sting operation involving Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg.

The hearing in Bow Street magistrates court, which is expected to conclude tomorrow, will decide whether to send the men for trial in America or keep them in the UK, where they might also face criminal charges.

Zezov, who was employed by Kazkommerts Securities in Kazakhstan, and Yarimaka face separate hacking, extortion and computer intrusion charges in the US, which carry a maximum sentence of up to 23 years in prison.

In court it was alleged that hackers found a way to break into Bloomberg's systems and were able to send and receive email on behalf of employees, as well as obtaining personal information about Michael Bloomberg, including his personal credit card number.

In Hotmail messages subsequently sent to Michael Bloomberg a fee of $200,000 was requested for security services, which if not paid, would result in the exposure of security weaknesses in Bloomberg's system to its clients and the press.

Bloomberg did not play along with this and contacted the FBI, who managed to lure the "conspirators" Zezov and Yarimika to London, where they were arrested.

This is disputed by the defence which said the two attended the London meeting only as representatives of someone called "Alex" who wanted to be paid as a security consultant for Bloomberg and advise it on how to secure its systems.

Julian Knowles, counsel for Yarimika, said that the pair could either be tried here or in Kazhakstan "where they are wanted by the police" and he questioned whether the crimes alleged happened within the jurisdiction of the United States. A ruling on this point will have important implications for the prosecution of crime in cyberspace, as well as being important in deciding whether the two will be sent to the US.

Much time in court was taken up arguing about the admissibility of various elements of evidence, particularly about where threatening emails were sent from and received.

District Judge Wicks, who will adjudicate on the application for extradition, confessed that his knowledge of Internet addresses largely cam from the quiz show The Weakest Link, and this question was laid aside for consideration later.

District Judge Wick is expected not to deliver an immediate verdict but to consider legal arguments before making a ruling, probably in around two weeks time. Appeals, whatever this ruling is, can be expected since the first "blackmail by email" case throws up a number of important legal issues. ®

Related stories:
Bloomberg involved in Net sting

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