US expels convicted Russian hacker amid cyber tensions with Moscow

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ICE agents put Alexei Burkov, 31, on a commercial flight departing from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Monday, ICE spokesperson Dani Bennett told CNN. .

Russian authorities arrested Burkov after arriving at Moscow‘s Sheremetyevo International Airport on Tuesday, according to the Russian Interior Ministry. In Russia, Burkov is accused of bank card fraud and the exchange of confidential financial data, an activity which allegedly took place between 2008 and 2015, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk said in a statement. .

This is one of the most significant developments in a cybercrime case since President Joe Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in June to crack down on hackers operating from Russian soil following a series of attacks. ransomware attacks against US companies.

Prior to his arrest in 2015, U.S. officials viewed Burkov as a key player in the Russian cybercriminal underworld, where he allegedly ran a website that allegedly facilitated more than $ 20 million in credit card fraud. He also ran an invitation-only web forum that served as a meeting point for “elite cybercriminals,” according to the Justice Department.

After being extradited from Israel to the United States in 2019 and going on trial, Burkov was sentenced by a federal judge in June 2020 to nine years in prison for identity theft, money laundering and other alleged crimes.

Burkov had until recently faced more than three additional years in prison in the United States, according to his original sentence, which included time spent in custody. But following a court case that remains sealed, Burkov was released from the prison office on August 25 and transferred to ICE, US officials said.

“It was not a [prisoner] exchange, ”Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said in a statement to CNN. She declined to comment on the details of the case, referring questions to the ICE.

It is not known what will be the legal fate of Burkov in Russia. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Gregory Stambaugh, an attorney for Burkov during his trial in the United States, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Burkov’s return to Russia is just the latest stage in a long-standing legal and geopolitical drama.

Extradition fight

After Burkov’s arrest in Israel in 2015, US and Russian authorities pressured to extradite him. In an apparent last-resort effort in the case, Russian authorities arrested an American-Israeli woman in April 2019 for allegedly transporting marijuana to Moscow airport. The Israelis nonetheless extradited Burkov to the United States, and he appeared in federal court in Virginia in November 2019.

His deportation comes as US officials are skeptical that Russian authorities will curtail the activities of Russia-based cybercriminals, who allegedly forced a major US pipeline operator to shut down for days in May. FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate said on September 14 that there was “no indication” that Moscow had cracked down on ransomware groups.

This is not the first time that a young Russian’s cybercrime affair has caused friction between Moscow and Washington.

Police in the Czech Republic arrested Russian national Yevgeniy Nikulin in 2016 at the behest of US authorities, who accused him of hacking into professional networking site LinkedIn in 2012. After the Czech government extradited Nikulin despite the objections from Russian officials, an American judge in September 2020 sentenced him to more than seven years in prison.

“Russia is notorious for using many tools to prevent its citizens from being extradited to the United States to face criminal charges,” Shane Stansbury, former Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, told CNN. . “It should come as no surprise that filing a concurrent extradition request is one of those tools.”


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