Suspected Russian hacker Yevgeniy Nikulin was extradited to the United States from the Czech Republic shortly after a last-minute appeal was rejected by the Constitutional Court. Mr Nikulin was in custody since his arrest in Prague in 2016 on an international warrant. He had also been sought by Russia. So while the decision was welcomed by the United States, not so much the latter.
The extradition of Russian national Yevgeniy Nikulin to the United States to face charges for allegedly hacking American firms such as LinkedIn and Dropbox was effectively without warning and swift – coming overnight on March 30 following a decision by Justice Minister Robert Pelikán.
The minister took the decision shortly the Constitutional Court rejected in writing a last-minute appeal by the Russian as “groundless”.
Russia, which had also filed for extradition on the grounds of petty online theft, expressed disappointment over the move, charging that the Czech Republic had decided in favour of its ally rather than on legal grounds. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the decision “politically motivated”.
Justice Minister Robert Pelikán had outlined the reasons for the decision, maintaining that that the judicial process had been by the book. He told Czech TV he had respected the process to a T, in other words, until the Constitutional Court rejected the appeal. He explained, in his view, the suspect was extradited.
“In the United States he is wanted for very serious crimes, and the US was active – putting out the international warrant for his arrest. [By comparison] Russia wanted him for a far older and less serious crime.”
Earlier in the week, the speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan, in Prague on a semi-official visit, made no secret of the fact that the US wanted Mr Nikulin to face justice on its soil, expressing every confidence in a positive outcome.
“I would simply ask you to follow your own laws. The law is very clear: the United States has the case to prevail on having him extradited. Whether it is the severity of the crime, which is clearly on the side of the US. The Czech law is clear and so all that we ask is that the Czech law be followed because this is what democracies do. We follow laws and believe in the rule of law.
“… So all that we ask, naturally, is that the laws are followed; we believe very clearly and concretely that under the Czech extradition law he should be extradited to America.”
Neither Mr Nikulin’s lawyer nor Russia officials were informed in advance of the move and Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since warned that the decision will almost certainly undermine Czech-Russian relations.
It is clear that some in the Czech Republic would have preferred a different outcome: the deputy leader of the Communist Party Josef Skála said the move certainly wouldn’t help relations with the East, and it was also criticised by some at Prague Castle, such as the chancellor to the president, Vratislav Mynář who called Pelikán’s decision “unlawful” while spokesman Jiří Ovčáček called it “non-standard”.
According to the justice minister, Czech President Miloš Zeman – a vocal supporter of Russia – twice requested Mr Nikulin be extradited to Russia. Some like opposition party TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil, a former justice minister himself, applauded that Minister Pelikán, as he saw it, had “not bowed” to political pressure from people close to the president.