Friday, 21 September 2018

LN: Czechs locked in power game over Nikulin's extradition

ČTK |
8 March 2018

Prague, March 7 (CTK) - The Czech Republic has appeared in a power game between the USA and Russia, both of which are demanding the extradition of alleged Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin to them, daily Lidove noviny (HN) wrote on Wednesday.

The Donald Trump Administration considers the case the number one problem in Czech-U.S. relations, LN writes.

Nikulin, 30, has been under arrest in Prague since October 2016 based on an international arrest warrant issued by the USA. The USA suspects him of a hacking attack on the Linkedin and Formspring social networks and the Dropbox file hosting service in 2012-13. Russia accused him of a rather small online theft from 2009.

The USA asked the Czech Republic for Nikulin's extradition on November 16, 2016. The Czech Justice Ministry later received a Russian request for his extradition also issued on November 16, 2016, and based on an arrest warrant from November 10, 2016.

Next week, the Prague Municipal Court will deal with Nikulin's complaint about the Czech Interior Ministry as it denied asylum to him, calling it unsubstantiated.

It said Nikulin was only trying to avoid his extradition.

For security reasons, the hearing will take place right in the Pankrac prison in Prague, where he is held.

There is a security risk associated with Nikulin's stay in the Czech Republic. "Based on the signals we have, there is a big risk that Russians may try to get him out of the strict regime. They would like to have him in a situation in which he could be kidnapped," LN quotes a Czech intelligence source as saying.

This scenario is consistent with the letter Nikulin's mother sent to President Milos Zeman, asking him for help and speaking about Czech police brutality, in January. The Russian paper Izvestia wrote that Nikulin was dying in the Czech prison.

"What matters is the tactic to be applied in the escorts to the court. The team includes a police officer who is to prevent the kidnapping. He also watches whether he might be poisoned," a senior prison service officer has told the paper.

"His portion is always taken anonymously and from a common kettle to prisoners' plates," he added.

The Americans really insist on Nikulin's extradition. As Ambassador Stephen King has said, it is his priority to make sure that Nikulin will be extradited to the USA, to face accusations there, Ed Findley, the U.S. press attache, wrote to LN.

Nikulin's case can also frustrate the planned visits by senior U.S. politicians to the Czech Republic, LN writes.

The Americans believe that Nikulin is an asset that can lead them even farther than to the uncovering of the theft of Internet data. They also hope that he may cast a light on the influence of Russian hackers on the 2016 presidential race in the USA, LN writes.

The U.S. effort grows along with Moscow's rising interest in Nikulin, LN writes.

"The Russian Foreign Ministry and embassy in Prague are actively working with the Czech authorities to prevent the release of a Russian citizen to the USA. The relevant steps were taken through diplomatic channels," Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said shortly after Nikulin's arrest.

There is also the risk that Nikulin may be killed, LN writes, referring to a senior prison service official.

Due to this, special security measures were taken in the Pankrac prison, LN writes.

The Nikulin case has also rocked the position of Justice Minister Robert Pelikan (ANO). He disclosed the information in the Chamber of Deputies that President Milos Zeman repeatedly and resolutely intervened on behalf of Nikulin's extradition to Moscow, LN writes.

Zeman has some levers at present with which to influence whether Pelikan will be sitting in Prime Minister Andrej Babis's next government, LN writes.

It is Zeman who will be signing the appointment of the ministers, it adds.

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