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U.S. Judge Finds Alleged Russian Hacker Nikulin Competent To Stand Trial

Yevgeny Nikulin is shown in a screen grab from a YouTube video, taken in Moscow, in July 2017.
Yevgeny Nikulin is shown in a screen grab from a YouTube video, taken in Moscow, in July 2017.

A U.S. judge has ordered that Yevgeny Nikulin, a Russian man extradited from the Czech Republic and charged in one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history, is mentally competent to stand trial, paving the way for the beginning of formal proceedings.

The ruling, by San Francisco-based Judge William Alsup, concludes a months-long process of psychiatric evaluations that were ordered after he was shackled when he tried to escape U.S. Marshals' custody and had several physical altercations with officers.

"The government has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant’s mental disorder does not render him incompetent and that any refusal to participate in his own defense is due to his own choice," Alsup wrote in the May 29 order.

Alsup set a June 11 date for a status hearing in the case.

Nikulin, 31, was arrested in Prague in October 2016 and extradited to the United States in March 2018.

He pleaded not guilty to charges that he hacked into the systems of LinkedIn and DropBox in 2012 and 2013, allegedly accessing a database containing millions of account passwords.

Nikulin's case has raised suspicions that his hacking may be linked to the 2016 breach of servers belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

E-mails stolen from the committee were later leaked and published in July 2016 by Wikileaks, as the U.S. presidential election campaign was heating up.

Russia's Foreign Ministry, which fought to keep Nikulin from being sent to the United States, called his extradition "a conscious, politically motivated step by the Czech side aimed at undermining the constructive basis of bilateral cooperation."

Moscow, also sought his extradition, saying he faced criminal charges in Russia. Russian officials also complained that Nikulin’s detention and subsequent extradition was an example of U.S. authorities "hunting for Russian citizens across the world."

During court proceedings in Prague, Nikulin's Czech lawyer said his client claimed the FBI tried to force him to take responsibility for the hacking of the Democratic Party's servers.

Nikulin’s lawyer, Arkady Bukh, told RFE/RL that they disagree with the judge's ruling and were considering whether to appeal.

He also said a trial date was likely to be set during the June 11 hearing.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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