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Czech Court Rules Hacking Suspect Can Be Extradited To U.S. Or Russia

PRAGUE -- A court in the Czech Republic has ruled that a Russian computer-hacking suspect at the center of a tug-of-war between the United States and Russia can be extradited to either country.

The Prague Municipal Court issued the decision at a hearing on May 30 in the case of Yevgeny Nikulin, whom the United States accuses of hacking computers and stealing information from major Internet companies, including LinkedIn and Dropbox.

Russia is also seeking the extradition of Nikulin, 29, who was arrested by the Czech authorities in October 2016 based on an Interpol warrant requested by the U.S. government.

The ruling is subject to appeal and the final decision will be in the hands of the Czech justice minister, who can approve extradition to one country and block the other.

The hearing was held at Pankrac prison in the Czech capital, a rare step that underscored the sensitivity of the case.

Journalists were not allowed to bring cameras, mobile phones, and laptops to the hearing. Relatives of Nikulin attended but did not speak to reporters.

Czech authorities arrested the Russian in Prague on October 5, in cooperation with the FBI, after Interpol issued an international warrant.

The hearing was originally scheduled for May 11 but was postponed after Nikulin's lawyer Martin Sadilek said that he had not received some of the case documents.

Russia wants Nikulin extradited on a separate charge of Internet theft dating back to 2009.

Russian officials had previously said they were working to prevent his extradition to the United States.

A lawyer for Nikulin has claimed FBI agents tried to get him to confess to hacking the U.S. Democratic Party before the November 2016 presidential vote in which Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Nikulin's fate is being decided at a time when investigations into alleged meddling in the election by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which U.S. intelligence officials say sought to sway the vote in Trump's favor, remain in the spotlight.

With reporting by and AP