US and Russia engaged in legal tug of war over LinkedIn hack suspect

The Cyber Cold War, everyone

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Prague has become the centre of cyber cold war intrigue with both Russia and the US seeking the extradition of a Russian hacker.

Yevgeniy Nikulin, 29, is the target of extradition requests from both countries weeks following his arrest last October by Czech police during a holiday to the country. Local authorities acted on an Interpol arrest warrant issued by the US.

Nikulin faces US charges over high-profile hacks against LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring. The charges were unsealed on 21 October, two weeks after his 5 October arrest while on holiday with his girlfriend, as previously reported.

Formspring was the platform used for sexting by Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman and husband of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton's long-time personal aide. The discovery of emails linked to Clinton on Weiner's laptop led to the controversial decision by the FBI to reopen an investigation into the former Secretary of State's handling of sensitive emails just weeks before the US general election vote.

Nikulin's arrest came just three days before the Obama administration formally accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee and stealing emails subsequently turned over and released through WikiLeaks.

Nikulin has not been charged with anything directly related to the DNC hack, which US intel agencies have said was part of a Russian political influence campaign. Even if he's not a (publicly named, at least) suspect he remains a person of interest in the case. US authorities have filed separate charges against him that remain under seal.

Russia has responded to the American extradition request against Nikulin by asking the Czechs to ship him back home to face an $2,000 bank hacking charge dating back to 2009.

"He was never formally accused at that time. I think the reason is that he was recruited [by the Russian security services]," said Ondrej Kundra, political editor with the Czech weekly magazine Respekt, told The Guardian.

Russia reportedly offers hacking suspects immunity from prosecution in exchange for their assistance.

Adam Kopecky, Nikulin's Czech lawyer, told The Guardian that his client – who denies all charges – was being treated as a political pawn. "He is unhappy about being detained for a long time in a foreign country and about the accusations against him. He wants to return to Russia – but as a free man," Kopecky said.

Prague's chief prosecutor is expected to make a determination on the twin extradition requests by early February, a spokeswoman for the city's municipal court said. ®


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