Czechs face superpower tug of war over Russian ‘hacker’

Photo: Czech Television

The Czech Republic is facing the uncomfortable position of being in the middle a major tug of war between Washington and Moscow after a Russian citizen suspected of a major hacking operation in the United States was detained in Prague.

Photo: Czech Television
Czech Police pounced on the Russian suspect in a classy Prague restaurant accompanied by his girlfriend within 12 hours of being tipped off he was in Prague.

The Russian was sought by the US Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI) and was also subject to an Interpol red notice – the closest equivalent of a top level international arrest warrant.

According to US media reports, the Russian has been linked with a massive hack on the professional business site Linked-In in which details of around a quarter of the 430 million user accounts were stolen.

In the current tense relations between the US and Russia, in which alleged hacking by Russia to influence the ongoing US presidential election is one of the ingredients, the Prague detention of the alleged Russian super hacker has not gone unnoticed.

An extradition request from the US can be expected after it was officially told on October 5 that the Russian had been detained in the Czech Republic. Czech Ministry of Justice spokeswoman Tereza Schejbalová gave this update on Friday:

“The deadline for the extradition request is December 4. Up till now that request has not been received by the Ministry of Justice.”

At the same time though Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that it will ask Czech authorities to release the Russian citizen so he can return to his homeland. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said Moscow will do everything in its power to block the extradition of its citizen to the US.

Photo: Giorgio Comai,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Zakharova added that the Prague incident is seen by the Russian foreign ministry as part of a wider US attempt to impose its laws and procedures on the rest of the world with Russian citizens frequently the targets of the extradition demands.

The Russian embassy in Prague on Friday confirmed to Radio Prague that it has sought a lawyer to help its citizen in the pending battle in the Czech courts. A Prague court will eventually have to rule on any extradition request, either from the US or Russian side, when it is made. The process is likely to take several months.

The Czech Republic was painfully burnt in an extradition case involving the United States earlier this year. In that case, Lebanese terrorist suspect Ali Fajad was eventually released to his homeland after the Czech Minister of Justice stepped in to block his extradition to the US.

The Czech minister of defence later confirmed the widespread suspicion that the Fajad decision was linked with the release of five Czechs being held hostage in Lebanon. The US embassy said at the time it was “dismayed” by the Czech decision. For US authorities, the Czech move was all the more bitter because a few months earlier they had made the exceptional decision to extradite a US murder suspect to face trial in the Czech Republic.