The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives says he expects Czech authorities to extradite an alleged Russian hacker to the United States rather than Russia.
Yevgeny Nikulin is accused of hacking big Internet companies including LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012 and 2013. In the United States, he faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on charges that include computer intrusion and identity theft.
But his case became an international tug-of-war when Russia made a rival extradition request shortly after the United States put forward its request. In Russia, Nikulin is wanted for alleged involvement in an online theft of about $2,000 in 2009.
During a visit to the Czech Republic, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on March 27 that "we have every reason to believe and expect that Mr. Nikulin will be extradited to America."
"The United States has the case to prevail on having him extradited, whether it's the severity of the crime, which is clearly on the side of U.S., or the timing of the request for the extradition," he told reporters.
In an interview with RFE/RL in Prague on March 26, Ryan said that the "case for extraditing [Nikulin] to America versus Russia is extremely clear."
Ryan, who met with Prime Minister Andrej Babis and other Czech officials during his visit, told RFE/RL that he would raise the issue in those talks.
"He did violate our laws, he did hack these companies.... So the extradition claim is very legitimate," he said. "And I just expect that the Czech system will go through its process, and at the end of that process, I am hopeful and expecting that he’ll be extradited."
The issue appears to have sparked a political battle in Prague.
Babis has said Nikulin should be extradited to the United States. But Justice Minister Robert Pelikan, who will make the decision on where to send Nikulin, has said that President Milos Zeman -- known for his relatively pro-Kremlin views -- has advocated handing the suspected hacker over to Russia.
Zeman's office has not commented on Pelikan's pubic remarks, and declined to comment to RFE/RL on the matter.
In the meantime, there has been tight security at a series of court hearings where Nikulin has been fighting his extradition to the United States. He recently made an appeal to the Constitutional Court.
Nikulin's lawyer said his client claimed the FBI is trying to link him to the hacking of the Democratic Party's servers during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
"We see here a political subtext to this case," attorney Martin Sadilek said.
Nikulin "is worried that because he was approached by an FBI agent with a certain offer, that they wanted him, he says, to confess to something he had not done. He’s worried that if he is extradited to the United States, they would want the same thing."
This case is not unique.
Spain has extradited two alleged Russian hackers to the United States this year, Stanislav Lisov and Pyotr Levashov.
Russia also made a counter-extradition request for Levashov.
Another Russian, Aleksandr Vinnik, is being held in Greece pending extradition requests from both Washington and Moscow.
The Russian Embassy in Prague declined to comment on the Nikulin case, referring RFE/RL instead to an interview with the ambassador, Aleksandr Zmeyevsky, that was published on its website.
In it, the ambassador says Russia has repeatedly rejected as "unacceptable...attempts to extend the jurisprudence of American law to the territory of third countries."