Czech President Milos Zeman has repeatedly lobbied for a suspected Russian hacker detained in Prague and wanted by the United States to be extradited to Russia, Justice Minister Robert Pelikan was quoted as saying on February 24.
Zeman, a 73-year-old ex-communist with strong pro-Russian, pro-Chinese and anti-Muslim views, won a second five-year term in a presidential vote last month.
Yevgeny Nikulin, 30, is being sought by the United States for alleged cyberattacks on social networks and also by his native Russia on fraud charges, has been in prison since he was arrested by the Czech police in Prague in October 2016 in a joint operation with the FBI.
In May last year, a Prague court ruled that Nikulin could be extradited to either Russia or the United States, with the final say left to Justice Minister Robert Pelikan.
"It's true that there have been two meetings this year at which the president [Milos Zeman] asked me to extradite a Russian citizen not to the United States, but to Russia," Pelikan told Czech news site aktualne.cz.
The site said the meetings had taken place last month, while earlier this week Pelikan received Vratislav Mynar, the head of Zeman's office, who also lobbied for Nikulin's extradition to Russia.
"It's none of your business, but I have handed the minister a letter from the detained Nikulin's mother," Mynar told aktualne.cz.
Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovcacek declined to comment on the matter.
Following Nikulin's arrest, Moscow accused Washington of harassing its citizens and vowed to fight Nikulin's extradition.
It then issued a separate arrest warrant for him over alleged theft from the WebMoney settlement system.
The United States wants Nikulin on multiple charges, including computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft.
U.S. prosecutors say Nikulin sent a program to a LinkedIn employee's computer, stole the employee's username and password and used them to access the company's computers in 2012.
LinkedIn has linked Nikulin to the 2012 breach and said it resulted in more than 100 million of its users' passwords being compromised, prompting a massive password reset operation.
Nikulin is also accused of hacking two other companies, Dropbox and Formspring, and conspiring to sell user names, passwords, and e-mail addresses stolen from Formspring customers.
Nikulin's lawyer Martin Sadilek told the AFP news agency that his client alleges that FBI investigators had tried twice to persuade him to confess to cyberattacks on the U.S. Democratic Party.
With reporting by akutalne.cz, idnes.cz, and AFP