The extradition hearing of a 20-year-old man in Cyprus, accused of wire fraud and wanted by the FBI, was interrupted Thursday after his defence team accused the prosecutor of withholding evidence and presenting an reliable witness.
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The young man, who is described in media reports as a Cypriot hacker, is currently awaiting trial on charges of being involved in a May 2017 network attack against Cablenet, a private telecommunications service provider.
But the FBI also wants the man to face American justice for wire fraud they say he committed against a number of US companies between 2014 and 2016.
The Cypriot charges are conspiracy to commit a crime, unlawful access to a computer, unlawful access to a systems network, illegal interference with a systems network, illegal data tampering, unlawful wired interception of data, and computer fraud.
Lost in translation
The investigator in the case, appearing as a witness for the prosecution team, read aloud all seven charges that the defendant is facing in his Cypriot case, according to daily Phileleftheros.
The defence then suggested that “wire fraud” did not correspond to the wording of any specific offence in Cypriot law
But when the witness told the judge that the suspect is wanted in the US for similar charges, the defence raised questions during cross-examination. They asked the witness if he was familiar with how exactly the American charges against their client corresponded to the Cypriot charges.
The defence specifically singled out the term “wire fraud” and asked whether the witness was in a position to pin point the Cypriot law to which it corresponded. The witness told the court he wasn’t qualified to answer the question.
The defence then suggested that “wire fraud” did not correspond to the wording of any specific offence in the Cypriot justice system, thus dismissing the validity of the argument presented by the witness. In an effort to offer translation for the term, the defence attorney attempted to offer a legal interpretation for “wire fraud” in Greek and pressed the witness further, with him declaring again he was unable to answer.
The prosecutor objected to the line of questioning, saying the witness had consulted with foreign colleagues about the charges but he was not an expert to respond to the specific questions.
The defence team also argued that they had not been given all the details in the case, alleging that two of the five targeted companies in the US were not made known to them in the documents. It later emerged that the defence team was missing a page and accused the prosecution team of withholding evidence. The prosecutor argued that the defence lawyers could have misplaced the page, with the court ruling that it must have been an oversight and ordered for the information to be provided again ahead of the next hearing on April 3.
While the extradition hearing had began with the judge not allowing the prosecution to present new evidence due to the cross-examination of a witness, it became convoluted on technicalities with the court setting a new hearing on April 4, one day after the Cypriot case.
The Cablenet attack
The hit on Cablenet came largely from abroad but experts confirmed that local activity was also registered on the networks, in a total of eight separate incidents during the attack. The operation used a virtual network of infected computers, known as botnets, which were programmed to hit the target with a barrage of requests to access their computers. This resulted in a Denial of Service (DoS) for thousands of legitimate customers, who were paying-subscribers, unable to access services for television, internet and telephony.
Nicosia police investigators apprehended the then-19-year-old along with his 54-year-old mother last year in connection with the case. Based on computer forensic evidence, the attack came around the same period of other similar hit jobs to other companies in Cyprus and abroad. During that general period, computer and electronics stores, such as Stephanis and Bionic, were also being targeted and blackmailed into paying money in Bitcoin currency to avoid further hits.
US officials had told investigators in Cyprus that they were investigating at least two cases of electronic attacks and money extortion, with evidence such as email and IP address linked to the defendant. In one case, $19,000 was paid by a company in two installments. It was also reported that another company had paid $1000 in advance while the total amount demanded was $90,000.
The defendant was supposed to walk free back in February on conditions, after he got a deferral in his court case for April 3. But FBI officials quickly filed for his extradition to the US and now their request will be heard a day after the Cypriot case trial moves forward.
It remains to be seen whether the defendant will face trial in Cyprus first and then be extradited to the US or whether he will ever face justice on American soil.