| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 15 The Russian government offered
asylum to a Maryland-born man facing U.S. charges he was part of
a computer hacking scheme targeting financial firms including
JPMorgan Chase & Co, but he turned down the offer, his
lawyer said on Thursday.
Joshua Aaron's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, made the remarks
during a hearing in federal court in Manhattan, a day after his
client was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport
after being deported from Russia.
Aaron is one of nine people facing charges following an
investigation connected to a data breach that JPMorgan disclosed
in 2014 involving records of more than 83 million accounts.
Brafman told U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain that
Aaron, 32, had been trying for months to return to the United
States from Russia and came back after having "turned down an
offer of asylum in Russia."
Reuters could not independently confirm the asylum offer.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to a request
According to Brafman, the offer came after Aaron applied for
refugee status in June, a month after he was detained for a visa
Aaron, who was born in Maryland and attended Florida State
University, withdrew the refugee request "many months ago" after
he consulted with lawyers in the United States and learned more
about the U.S. justice system, Brafman said.
He began trying to return to the United States to face the
charges, Brafman said. But "someone in Russia was trying to
keep" him in the country.
"It took us several months of fighting with the Russian
authorities to actually get him on a plane," Brafman said. "In
that period, he was offered full asylum by Russian authorities
and he rejected it."
Brafman's claims followed reports on Friday that the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency had concluded that Russian hacking
during the U.S. election was aimed at helping Republican
President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election.
Aaron was indicted along with two Israeli men, Gery Shalon
and Ziv Orenstein, in November 2015 for his alleged role in
hacking crimes targeting several U.S. financial services firms
and media outlets, including JPMorgan.
Prosecutors said the scheme dated back to 2007 and stole the
personal information of more than 100 million people.
Prosecutors said they engaged in the hacking spree to
further other schemes, including pumping up stock prices with
sham promotional emails, running online casinos and operating an
illegal bitcoin exchange.
Aaron, Shalon and Orenstein have pleaded not guilty.
The case is U.S. v. Shalon et al, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-00333.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)