PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic has extradited Russian citizen Yevgeniy Nikulin to the United States where he is accused of hacking social networks including LinkedIn, the Czech Justice Ministry said on Friday.
The decision by Minister Robert Pelikan defied Russia, which had also asked for his extradition after Nikulin was arrested in Prague in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2016.
“We confirm extradition to the United States,” a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said in a text message after earlier reports. “He has already flown out.”
A U.S. federal grand jury in California indicted the 29-year-old Nikulin in 2016 on suspicion of hacking into the U.S.-based social media companies LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring in 2012.
LinkedIn has said the case was related to a 2012 breach at the social networking company that it previously said may have compromised the credentials of 100 million users, prompting it to launch a massive password reset operation.
Nikulin has in the past denied any wrongdoing in comments to Czech media. Reuters could not immediately reach his attorney on Friday.
After Nikulin’s arrest in Prague, Russia also asked for his extradition. A Moscow court issued a warrant for his arrest in November 2016 for the alleged theft of $3,450 via Webmoney in 2009, the Czech Justice Ministry said then.
Czech courts have ruled extradition to both countries was permissible, and the decision was up to Pelikan.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said he was in favor of extradition to the United States but Pelikan said President Milos Zeman, who often takes a pro-Russian stance, had urged extradition to Russia.
Pelikan refused in 2016 to extradite two Lebanese citizens charged in the United States with an attempt to sell ground-to-air missiles, cocaine trafficking and other crimes.
Another Czech cabinet minister said at the time that this decision was connected with the return of five Czechs from a presumed kidnapping in Lebanon.
Babis needs Zeman’s support as he tries to build a new government after his minority cabinet lost a confidence vote last month. Zeman has the right to appoint prime ministers and has promised Babis another try at installing a government.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Richard Balmforth/Mark Heinrich