The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has called on Czech authorities to extradite an alleged Russian hacker to the United States amid claims that the Czech president wants to return the man to Moscow.
Yevgeny Nikulin is accused of hacking big Internet companies like LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012 and 2013. In the United States, he faces up to 30 years in prison for computer intrusion, identity theft, and other charges.
But his case became an international tug-of-war when Russia made a rival extradition request shortly after the U.S. put forward its request. In Russia, Nikulin is wanted for alleged involvement in an online theft of $2,000 in 2009.
U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan said he would raise the issue during his talks with Czech officials in Prague this week, including in two meetings with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
"The case for extraditing him to America versus Russia is extremely clear," Ryan told RFE/RL in an interview.
"He did violate our laws, he did hack these companies, as you say. So the extradition claim is very legitimate. And I just expect that the Czech system will go through its process, and at the end of that process, I am hopeful and expecting that he’ll be extradited."
But the issue appears to have sparked a political battle in Prague.
Prime Minister Babis has said Nikulin should be extradited to the United States. But Czech President Milos Zeman, sworn in for a second term of office on March 8, appears to have a different view.
Justice Minister Robert Pelikan, who will make the final decision on Nikulin, said Zeman had asked him repeatedly to send Nikulin to Russia.
Zeman's office has not commented on the claim, and declined to speak to RFE/RL for this report.
But he is well-known for backing Russia's views on international issues.
Meanwhile, there has been tight security at a series of court hearings where Nikulin has been fighting his extradition to the United States. He recently made an appeal to the Constitutional Court.
Nikulin's lawyer said his client claimed the FBI is trying to link him to the hacking of the Democratic Party's servers during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.
"We see here a political subtext to this case," attorney Martin Sadilek said.
Nikulin "is worried that because he was approached by an FBI agent with a certain offer, that they wanted him, he says, to confess to something he had not done. He’s worried that if he is extradited to the United States, they would want the same thing."
This case is not unique.
Spain has extradited two alleged Russian hackers to the United States this year, Stanislav Lisov and Pyotr Levashov.
Russia also made a counter-extradition request for Levashov.
Another Russian, Aleksandr Vinnik, is being held in Greece pending extradition requests from both Washington and Moscow.
The Russian Embassy in Prague declined to comment on the Nikulin case, referring us instead to an interview with the ambassador published on its website.
In it, the ambassador says Russia has repeatedly rejected as "unacceptable...attempts to extend the jurisprudence of American law to the territory of third countries."