PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Czech court ruled on Tuesday a Russian citizen can be extradited to either the United States, where he is accused of hacking social networks including LinkedIn, or to Russia where he faces a lesser charge of cyber theft.
Czech police arrested Yevgeniy Nikulin in Prague on Oct. 5 in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Both the United States and Russia had requested his extradition, leaving him in a tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow.
Tuesday’s ruling, pending appeals, leave the final decision in the hands of Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikan, who can approve extradition to one country and block the other.
Lawyers for Nikulin filed a complaint challenging the U.S. extradition immediately after the court decision and have three days to lodge the same against the Russian request.
“Both (case) documents are very, very sufficient for reasonable suspicion that (the offences) took place and that there is reason to press charges,” Prague Municipal Court judge Jaroslav Pytloun said.
A U.S. federal grand jury in California indicted the 29-year-old Nikulin last October on suspicion of hacking into the U.S.-based social media companies LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring in 2012.
LinkedIn has said the case was related to a 2012 breach at the social networking company that it previously said may have compromised the credentials of 100 million users, prompting it to launch a massive password reset operation.
After Nikulin’s arrest in Prague, Russia also asked for his extradition. A Moscow court issued a warrant for his arrest on Nov. 10 for the alleged theft of $3,450 via Webmoney in 2009, the Czech Justice Ministry said then.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized Nikulin’s arrest last year, saying it showed Washington was mounting a global manhunt against Russian citizens.
Czech police arrested Nikulin just two days before Washington formally accused Moscow of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. No connection has been made between the two cases, however.
Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Heinrich