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Czech Court Rules Hacking Suspect Can Be Extradited To U.S. Or Russia


PRAGUE -- A Czech court has ruled that a Russian computer hacking suspect at the center of a tug-of-war between the United States and Russia can be extradited to either country.

The May 30 decision by the Prague Municipal Court was the latest development in the case of Yevgeny Nikulin, whom the United States accuses of hacking computers and stealing information from major Internet companies, including LinkedIn and Dropbox.

Russia is also seeking the extradition of Nikulin, 29, who was arrested by Czech authorities in October based on an Interpol warrant requested by the U.S. government.

The hearing was held at Pankrac prison in the Czech capital, a rare step that underscored the sensitivity of the case. Journalists were not allowed to bring cameras, mobile phones, and laptops to the hearing.

WATCH: Czech Court Hear Extradition Case For Russian Hacker (natural sound)

During the May 30 hearing, Nikulin’s lawyers sought to introduce technical evidence undermining the U.S. case against him, in particular the FBI affidavit submitted in support of his extradition.

But Judge Jaroslav Pytloun maintained that the hearing was focused on the question of extradition, not Nikulin’s guilt or innocence.

"I'm innocent," Nikulin told the court in Russian. "I haven't done anything illegal. I have nothing to do with that."

The lawyers said they would appeal the decision that would allow extradition to the United States, but not to Russia.

A final decision will be in the hands of the Czech justice minister, who can approve extradition to one country and block the other. It wasn’t immediately clear when that decision would be issued.

The extradition hearing was originally scheduled for May 11 but was postponed after Nikulin's lawyer, Martin Sadilek, said that he had not received some of the case documents.

Russia wants Nikulin extradited on a separate charge of Internet theft dating back to 2009.

A lawyer for Nikulin has claimed FBI agents tried to get him to confess to hacking the U.S. Democratic Party before the November 2016 presidential vote in which Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That issue again came up briefly during the May 30 hearing, when Nikulin said he was not involved in cyberattacks targeting the Democratic party.

Nikulin's fate is being decided at a time when investigations into alleged meddling in the U.S. election by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which U.S. intelligence officials say sought to sway the vote in Trump's favor, continue to shadow the Trump administration.

The U.S. intelligence community said in a report released in January that Russia used computer hacking, e-mail leaks, and propaganda to influence the November 8 vote.

At least three different congressional committees are looking into the alleged election interference, and the FBI also has an ongoing criminal investigation into the ties between Trump associates and Russian officials.

With reporting by Current Time TV, Reuters, Lidovky.cz, and AP
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