The Justice Department’s prosecution of Karim Baratov, an Ontario resident charged this week in connection with a massive Yahoo data breach, may be “politically motivated,” one of his lawyers said Thursday.
Mr. Baratov, a Canadian-Kazakh national, was arrested Tuesday at his home in Ancaster, west of Toronto, at the request of U.S. authorities, and was indicted the following day on 10 counts including computer hacking and wire fraud connected to the 2014 Yahoo hack.
The Justice Department claims Mr. Baratov helped three Russian men, including two intelligence officers, conduct a wide-scale hacking scheme that targeted the internet accounts of various journalists, politicians and private-sector employees.
As the U.S. seeks Mr. Baratov’s extradition, however, one of his lawyers called the Justice Department’s case into question.
“He’s being used as a scapegoat,” attorney Jag Virk told CBC Thursday. “We believe the charges against him may be politically motivated by the U.S. He is a 22-year-old young man with no criminal record. Everyone should wait for the facts to come out before rushing to judgment.”
Prosecutors might have pursued Wednesday’s indictment in an effort to establish the Trump administration’s position against international cybercrime, according to the attorney, as allegations swell involving Russia’s hacking prowess and its attempts on U.S. targets.
Also named in Wednesday’s indictment are three Russian nationals, including two officers of the government’s FSB Center for Information Security, Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin.
Armed with proprietary data stolen from Yahoo, the FSB officers “protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the U.S. and elsewhere,” the Justice Department said.
“When Dokuchaev and Sushchin learned that a target of interest had accounts at webmail providers other than Yahoo, including through information obtained as part of the Yahoo intrusion, they tasked their co-conspirator, Baratov, a resident of Canada, with obtaining unauthorized access to more than 80 accounts in exchange for commissions,” the Justice Department said.
The dozens of internet accounts allegedly breached by Mr. Baratov represent a fraction of the approximately 500 million Yahoo accounts compromised by a broader hacking scheme that makes up the bulk of this week’s indictment.
“Donald Trump is trying to make it appear like he’s going after Russian hackers, but he’s going after a 22-year-old kid from Ancaster,” Mr. Virk told CBC.
“My client maintains his innocence,” he added. “He’s obviously very scared, very stressed out. He’s trying to be strong.”
Mr. Baratov is currently being held in custody pending a bail hearing scheduled for Friday in Hamilton, Ontario.