A last-minute complaint from Yevgeny Nikulin, the Russian cybercrime suspect at the center of a tug-of-war between Moscow and Washington, has delayed a final decision on his extradition to the United States or Russia.
The Constitutional Court in the Czech Republic, where Nikulin is jailed, said on March 13 that the Russian cannot be extradited until it rules on the matter.
Although Nikulin has exhausted all appeals, his lawyers, who have accused appeals court judges of bias, presented a final complaint to the court in a bid to postpone their client’s extradition.
Nikulin, 30, was arrested in Prague in October 2016 based on a warrant issued by the United States, where he is suspected of hacking the LinkedIn and Formspring social networks and the Dropbox file- hosting service in 2012-13.
After he was detained, Russia asked the Czech authorities to extradite him to his home country, citing him as a suspect in a relatively minor $2,000 online theft in 2009.
Nikulin denies he is a hacker. His lawyers have pushed to return their client to Russia, arguing that he could not expect a fair trial in the United States.
Nikulin faces a maximum 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines if convicted on U.S. charges including computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy, and trafficking in illegal access devices.
Czech courts have ruled that Nikulin can be extradited and the decision on where he will be sent is up to Justice Minister Robert Pelikan.
Pelikan told parliament earlier this month that Czech President Milos Zeman, who has praised Russia and has warm ties with President Vladimir Putin, has asked him to extradite Nikulin to Russia.
“He asked me repeatedly and vehemently. I listened to it and presented my stance to the president, which I am not going to interpret here,” Pelikan said on March 1.
He said he does not feel any pressure to decide in Russia’s favor because of Zeman’s request and that he would base his decision primarily on where Nikulin is accused of committing more serious crimes.
The battle between Russia and the United States over Nikulin’s fate comes amid persistent tension between Moscow and the West over alleged Russian operations to interfere in other countries’ affairs through hacking and social-media propaganda.
U.S. intelligence agencies said in January 2017 that they determined that Putin had ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
With reporting by Echo24.cz, Novinky.cz, and AP