Alleged Russian scammer appears in U.S. court after extradition battle

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) during an appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Wikicommons).

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A Russian man accused of hacking-related crimes made his first public appearance in federal court Tuesday since being extradited from Israel.

Aleksei Burkov, 29, was in the Eastern District Court of Virginia to face allegations including the sale of stolen credit card information, identity theft and money laundering. His presence in court represented a victory for U.S. officials who convinced Israeli judges to send Burkov to the U.S. rather than to Russia.

Burkov allegedly operated a website caled “Cardplanet” where scammers could buy and sell information on more than 150,000 credit cards. Damages to American victims totaled roughly $20 million, U.S. officials said in the extradition request. To join a second forum operated by Burkov, potential members needed three existing members to vouch for their trustworthiness and to provide a cash payment, typically $5,000, the Justice Department said.

Burkov faces 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

“They were heavy, heavy into cybercrime,” said one former U.S. official involved in the investigation. “He was involved with a network of Russians who were trying to monetize everything they were doing.”

The Kremlin filed its own extradition request for Burkov and then, while courts there debated whether to send the young man home or to the U.S., detained an Israeli woman on drug charges. Russian state media suggested the Russian government might consider freeing Naama Issachar in exchange for Burkov’s release. When Israel declined, a Russian court sentenced Issachar to more than seven years in prison for allegedly holding a small amount of marijuana while passing through a Moscow airport.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a formal request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Issachar, and the two have twice discussed the matter, Israeli media reported.

Police arrested Burkov in the Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv in 2015. His defense team exhausted their appeals earlier this year.

Israel’s Supreme Court approved Burkov’s extradition on Sunday. The decision came after Issachar’s family canceled a request to put a hold on his trip stateside, at which point she told local reporters “Naama will not be a pawn for the Russian hacker and his people.”

The case marks a significant escalation of Russian government efforts to keep its citizens away from the U.S. justice system. Previously, Russian officials tried to convince Czech courts to extradite Yevgeniy Nikulin, who allegedly stole more than 100 million usernames and passwords from American tech firms, to Russia, rather than the U.S.

Russia claimed it should try Nikulin because he supposedly used digital means to steal more than $3,000 via fraudulent means.

Nikulin was extradited to the U.S. in March 2018. That case is pending trial.

The full indictment against Burkov is available below.

-In this Story-

Aleksey Burkov, Israel, Naama Issachar, Russia, Vladimir Putin
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