A Czech court ruled Tuesday that a Russian man who faces charges of hacking computers at American companies can be extradited either to the United States or Russia — and the suspect immediately appealed his possible extradition to the United States.
Czech authorities arrested Yevgeniy Nikulin in Prague in cooperation with the FBI in October after Interpol issued an international warrant. He is accused of stealing information from LinkedIn, Dropbox and other companies.
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Moscow also wants him extradited on a separate charge of internet theft in 2009. Russian officials had previously said they were working to prevent his extradition to the U.S.
The 29-year-old has denied wrongdoing.
"I'm innocent," Nikulin said through a translator at the hearing Tuesday. "I haven't done anything illegal. I have nothing to do with that."
Judge Jaroslav Pytloun said it wasn't his place to determine the suspect's guilt or innocence and ruled Tuesday that the extradition requests from both countries met the necessary legal conditions.
"Our goal is to assess whether the extradition requests from the two countries meet necessary conditions," the judge said. "The legal conditions are clearly fulfilled."
Nikulin appealed his extradition to the United States. He has three days to decide if he will agree to being extradited to Russia. Justice Minister Robert Pelikan will have the final say on where Nikulin goes after Prague's High Court decides his appeal.
Nikulin's defense lawyers have said the U.S. charges were based on one FBI agent, and suggested the U.S. was seeking him for political reasons — to use him as a pawn in the investigation into alleged Russian hacking in the U.S. election.
He claimed in the courtroom that he was twice approached by U.S. authorities — in November and in February — in the absence of his previous lawyer. He said they urged him to falsely testify that he was cooperating in the hacking attack on the Democratic National Committee ordered by Russian authorities. He said U.S. authorities would, in exchange, give him money and a life in the United States.
"I rejected doing it," Nikulin said.
The U.S. has accused Russia of coordinating the theft and disclosure of emails from the Democratic National Committee and other institutions and individuals in the U.S. to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Russia has vigorously denied that.
There was no indication that Nikulin's case was connected to the DNC hacking accusation.