The Republic of Cyprus has extradited two alleged cyber criminals to the United States, including a young man who is the first Cypriot national to be extradited under an extradition treaty with the US.
(Click here for an update to the story)
Joshua Polloso Epifaniou, a 21-year-old from Nicosia and the first Cypriot national to be extradited to the United States, landed at Kennedy Airport in New York last Friday. He was extradited on FBI warrants to face multiple cyber charges in Georgia and Arizona, including intrusion and money extortion.
Groups supporting the young Cypriot national previously said he was being unfairly treated, arguing the offences were committed from his bedroom when he was a minor. Other critics pointed to another Cypriot national, a businessman wanted for financial fraud, who was never extradited to face charges including securities fraud and money laundering.
FBI sees global network behind young hacker
'Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners in Cyprus, Ghassan Diab and Joshua Polloso Epifaniou will now be held accountable in the United States for their alleged crimes'
But reports have suggested there was a lot of discussion behind the scenes over the case, with media sources speculating on a possibility that the FBI might hope to use the teen’s case to catch bigger fish, as he is suspected to have had connections with other hackers on a global level. The young man could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on some of the charges.
Polloso Epifaniou is accused of having obtained thousands of US dollars from American companies by accessing their systems and threatening to leak their data if they didn’t pay up. He was also allegedly involved locally in a foreign-based cyber attack on the island against a local telecoms company, but Cypriot officials reportedly gave priority to the US case.
Born and raised on the island, and dubbed “Cypriot hacker” in the media, Joshua is described as a gifted student with excellent computer skills, who dropped out of high school to help his mother, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines who was facing economy hardships.
The young man became a citizen of the Republic of Cyprus while reports said his mother managed to secure child support from the youth’s biological father after a long and protracted legal battle.
Media reports said the father, described as a police officer and Cypriot citizen, had denied paternity until a DNA test ordered by a judge proved he was the biological father.
Lebanese national suspected of Hezbollah ties
A second alleged cyber criminal, 37-year-old Lebanese national Ghassan Diab, was also flown from Cyprus to the US on Friday, arriving in Miami where he is facing money laundering charges in the state of Florida.
Diab was provisionally arrested for purposes of extradition at Larnaca International Airport after arriving from Beirut in March 2019. He had been previously identified as an alleged Hezbollah associate and charges were announced in October 2016 as a part of a local Drug Enforcement operation.
US official praises law enforcement in Cyprus
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt at the US Justice Department’s Criminal Division said the two extraditions were proof of the department’s commitment to supporting “local, state and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.”
Rabbitt, a close associate of US Attorney General William Barr during the senate confirmation and Mueller investigation, also spoke of the Department’s “strong working relationship with dedicated foreign partners who assist in apprehending foreign fugitives wherever they may be hiding.”
“Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners in Cyprus, Ghassan Diab and Joshua Polloso Epifaniou will now be held accountable in the United States for their alleged crimes,” Rabbit said.
Cyprus amended its Constitution in 2013 to allow for the extradition of Cypriot nationals to a European country or to a third country on the basis of a European arrest warrant or on the basis of a bilateral or multilateral treaty that the Republic of Cyprus has signed, with the understanding that the corresponding country would extradite its citizens as well.