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17:05, 20 December 2017

A New Russian Ploy: Competing Extradition Requests


A New Russian Ploy: Competing Extradition Requests

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MOSCOW — The Russian spam kingpin had long been in the cross hairs of the F.B.I., and agents finally got their shot when the man scheduled a getaway in Spain. At the agency’s request, Spanish safety officers in April arrested the man, Pyotr Y. Levashov, who is accused of stuffing untold millions of inboxes with ads for pornography, tablets and penny stocks.

But then the Russian authorities sprang a trap of their personal, filing an extradition request with the Spanish authorities for a crime they mentioned Mr. Levashov had committed in Russia years ago. Currently, he is languishing in a Spanish jail, but quickly the authorities will have to choose which extradition request to honor: the United States’ or Russia’s.

This was by no means the 1st time that Russia had filed a competing extradition request. Far-fetched as it may possibly look, the Russians’ tactic has in a number of situations prevented Russians suspected of getting pc criminals from getting deported to the United States although detained in Europe.

The tactic has raised suspicions that the Russian authorities are far more interested in derailing American investigations and possibly protecting criminals they locate beneficial than they are in fighting cybercrime.

“People usually ask me about this,” Timofey S. Musatov, a Moscow lawyer whose Russian client is the subject of competing extradition requests. “It’s the most common query.”

In Mr. Levashov’s case, Russian prosecutors sought his extradition right after his detention in Spain when they discovered in August that he had hacked the computers of a hospital in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2014.

Pyotr Y. Levashov during an extradition hearing at the National Court in Madrid in July.CreditPool photo by Luca Piergiovanni

3 equivalent cases are pending in courts in Greece, Spain and the Czech Republic. In two of the 3, either the defendants’ lawyers or relatives have mentioned that their situations have some bearing on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election in the United States. Even though that may possibly be accurate, they have not provided any proof.

Their theory is that with the politically charged atmosphere in the United States more than the election meddling, the accused could not possibly get a fair trial there, so they should be returned to Russia.

In accordance with extradition treaties in all 3 nations, Russian lawyers say, the selection about exactly where to send the accused resides with a government minister. That opens the prospect of the United States’ getting powerless to cease the return to Russia of a suspect who could be able to offer you useful info on Russian meddling in the election.

The Greek police detained Mr. Musatov’s client, Aleksandr V. Vinnik, on an Americanwarrant that accuses him of operating a Moscow-primarily based Bitcoin exchange, BTC-e, that laundered as significantly as $four billion in illegal funds. Russian prosecutors filed an extradition request on a fraud charge.

The Russian case, Mr. Musatov stated, surfaced soon following Mr. Vinnik’s detention in Athens, possibly simply because the Russian police had read about his client in news reports and decided to investigate him.

“I’m a procedural lawyer who operates with documents and law,” he said. “I don’t perform in the category of conspiracy theories.” Mr. Vinnik has no known links to election hacking, he stated.

Aleksandr V. Vinnik, left, an accused Russian cybercriminal, was escorted by police officers at the courthouse in Thessaloniki, Greece, in October.CreditGiannis Papanikos/Linked Press

Another of Mr. Musatov’s clients, Dmitry O. Zubakha, who at the request of the United States was detained in Cyprus in 2012 on suspicion of hacking Amazon, was successfully extradited to Russia.

“This norm is in impact everywhere,” stated Vladimir V. Makeyev, a lawyer for one more Russian cybercrime suspect, Yevgeny A. Nikulin, who was detained in Prague while on trip with his girlfriend.

The United States accuses Mr. Nikulin of hacking the computer systems of LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring. Russia filed an extradition request soon after a laptop intrusion and on the web theft that occurred in 2010 but came to light only soon after his detention in the Czech Republic.

Mr. Makeyev argues that the United States is in search of Mr. Nikulin’s cooperation in the election-hacking investigation and that an F.B.I. agent from the San Francisco field workplace, Jeffrey Miller, traveled to Prague to offer you asylum in exchange for testimony. The F.B.I. has mentioned the agent was there only to study Mr. Nikulin his rights, and it remains unclear how he could have been connected to election hacking.

Why Russians suspected of hacking travel to nations that might detain them on United States extradition warrants is something of a mystery. “Once the money begins coming in, they take pleasure in a great way of life,” mentioned John Reid, a senior researcher with Spamhaus, a spam tracking group primarily based in London.

Probably impunity at house creates a false sense of safety. “We’ll see photographs of them sitting about with gold and fancy Western cars and guns. That sort of offers a profile” of high-rolling Russian hackers, he said.

A prison officer outside a courtroom at the start off of the trial of an accused Russian hacker, Yevgeny A. Nikulin, in Prague in November.

CreditMartin Divisek/European Pressphoto Agency

One theory for the travel, he mentioned, is the “girlfriend effect”: “You are a little hacking nerd and now you have a good-searching girlfriend, and it gets cold in Russia, and she says, ‘It’s cold I hate it here,’ and it wears him down, so he goes somewhere sunny, and that is it.”

Mr. Levashov, also, has claimed a political motivation for his arrest in Barcelona final spring, although a federal indictment unsealed in Connecticut charges him only with eight counts of computer-related crime and fraud. Mr. Levashov’s wife, Maria, stated in an interview that the Spanish police had told her the arrest was “related to the election.”

The American indictment asserts that Mr. Levashov, using the nickname Peter Severa, or Peter of the North, ran a spam operation powered by a sophisticated, evolving family members of computer viruses named Waledac, and later Kelihos. Mr. Levashov’s nickname might be derived from his northern hometown, St. Petersburg, or the name of a porn movie star, referring to the pornography promoted by spam e-mail.

Mr. Levashov told a Spanish court that the case ought to be viewed politically since he had worked for United Russia, a political party that backs President Vladimir V. Putin, and he is an army officer with access to Russian classified info.

“I collected diverse information about opposition parties and delivered it to the essential folks at the required time,” Mr. Levashov told the court, referring to Russian opposition parties, according to the Russian Data Agency.

In an online chat space for hackers years earlier, making use of the nickname Peter Severa, Mr. Levashov had gone further, suggesting that he had enlisted in a broad recruitment effort by the Russian government, begun about 4 years ago, to engage students, personal computer pros and criminals in government hacking teams, sometimes named science squadrons.

“Good day,” he wrote. “My name is Peter Severa. A lot of folks know me for my service distributing e mail.” But “everything is in flux, every thing modifications, and the time has come for me to change the path of my operate.”

He mentioned he had a new function: The Federal Security Service, recognized as the F.S.B., had appointed him to lead a group of hackers who would operate for the security service, which he called a “special battalion for data safety.”

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Published at Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:05:42 +0000


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