Russia on Thursday identified Yevgeny Nikulin of Moscow as the man arrested in Prague this month in connection with cyberattacks waged against U.S. computer systems.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed the alleged hacker’s identity at a press briefing Thursday and said Moscow’s embassy in Prague is actively working on preventing his extradition to the United States.
The arrest marks “the latest example of the U.S. law enforcement authorities hunting Russian citizens around the world,” Ms. Zakharova said at Thursday’s briefing, according to AFP.
This “once again proves the political motivation of the claims against Russia and Russian citizens,” she said.
Mr. Nikulin, 29, was arrested inside a downtown Prague hotel on Oct. 5 after being pursued by the FBI and Interpol, but his capture went unannounced until earlier this week due to “tactical reasons,” a spokesman for Czech police said Tuesday.
The announcement said a Russian citizen had been arrested on suspicion of hacking targets located in the United States, and did not identify any victims of the alleged cyberattacks. On Wednesday afternoon, however, LinkedIn suggested the individual may have been involved in a data breach that compromised the personal information of more than 100 million account holders in 2012.
“We are thankful for the hard work and dedication of the FBI in its efforts to locate and capture the parties believed to be responsible for this criminal activity,” the career-networking site said.
Prague police initially disclosed only Mr. Nikulin’s first name and blurry video footage of his arrest, but the Foreign Ministry confirmed the Muscovite’s identity on Thursday following publication of a report in Current Times, a Russian-language news outlet run by RFE/RL and Voice of America, outlets operated by the U.K. and U.S. governments, respectively.
According to the report, Instagram user “i.tak.soidet” bragged of luxury cars and frequently posted photographs of expensive automobiles and jewelry, including a gold Rolex watch and a Mercedes AMG GLE63 that correspond with items seen in footage of Mr. Nikulin’s arrest.
When the Instagram user posted a photograph of the Mercedes in Poland a few days prior to Mr. Nikulin’s arrest, a follower publicly commented “What about Interpol?” according to the report.
A source described by Current Times as a social-media friend of Mr. Nikulin said he was “an idiot” for traveling abroad and that “he knew about Interpol.”
The Instagram account was last updated six days after Mr. Nikulin was arrested by Prague police with a post that said “I will return soon, what’s all the fuss?” according to Current’s translation. The user tagged his location as “Prague Old Town,” but the account went private on Oct. 20 shortly after Current published its Russian-language report.
Russia has provided Mr. Nikulin with legal counsel and naturally will be monitoring his situation, the foreign ministry said.
Federal charges against Mr. Nikulin could not be found in the U.S. court system’s online database as of Friday afternoon, but a press secretary for Russia’s embassy in Prague said the Muscovite was apprehended in connection with extradition and arrest orders filed by American prosecutors.
Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., but could possibly reach a reciprocal agreement if Moscow acquires custody of the alleged hacker before Washington.
“We expect that the Czech authorities will listen and will understand our position - it is absolutely justified,” Russia’s commissioner for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, told Radio Praha.
Multiple U.S. officials have denied Mr. Nikulin’s arrest is connected to recent cyberattacks waged against various facets of the U.S. political system by hackers believed to be working on behalf of the Russian government, Reuters reported.