The parents of Karim Baratov, the Canadian accused in a massive cyberattack of half a billion Yahoo accounts, say the charges against their son are unfounded and it will be proven in court that he is being used as a “scapegoat.”
Akhmet Tokbergenov and Dinara Tokbergenova spoke with Global News about their son in order to show a “real portrayal” of the 22-year-old from Kazakhstan, insisting that he has no ties to Russia and that U.S. authorities have the “wrong person.”
“My son is such a lovely person … everything that’s in the media … that’s misinterpreted and over exaggerated,” Dinara said.
“Because he’s not the person like he was shown. He’s quiet, he’s nice, he’s peaceful, he’s not a criminal.”
Akhmet said he went to Baratov’s house on the morning of March 15 to help him shovel his driveway after a snowstorm, something the two would do for each other regularly, but when he arrived he was greeted by police leading his son away in handcuffs.
“I was deeply shocked … the police were there, several cars, and when I saw my son in cuffs I was like, I was ready to die,” he said, adding he initially thought his son had been involved in a collision because police did not provide him with information.
“It was the worst day, the worst minute of my life … I didn’t understand what was happening.”
Baratov was arrested under the extradition act and U.S. authorities said earlier this month that he and three others – two of them allegedly intelligence officers with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) – were indicted for computer hacking, economic espionage and other crimes.
Baratov’s lawyer, Amedeo Dicarlo, previously said the allegations against his client are unfounded.
He appeared briefly in a Hamilton court by video link on March 17 and a bail hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday.
When Karim was taken into police custody, Dinara said they immediately thought a mistake had been made.
“I think that police have the wrong person,” she said. “And now they want to blame somebody and so our son, in this situation, he is a scapegoat.”
Since that day, Dinara said the family has been struggling to cope without their son, who played a major role in their daily life.
“Oh my God — we can’t eat, we can’t sleep, we can’t do anything. We’re just existing now,” she said.
“We don’t even have dinner together we just don’t eat at all. Before Karim used to come to our place like every day like lunch and dinner or even not for eating he was just coming to visit us and now we’re so missing him.”
Akhmet said he asked his son how he got caught up in the charges Baratov told him he had never met the other three accused in the case, had never been to Russia or done anything “against the government.”
“He’s shocked: ‘Why I’m here in jail?,’” Akhmet said. “I will do all my best to save my son’s life. He’s Canadian and we are Canadian … and we would like everything [to] be proved in Canada and in court.”
He said the family moved to Canada on March 13, 2007, which is like a “second birthday” for the family, adding that every year they celebrate July 1, 2011 — the day they acquired their Canadian citizenship.
“We wanted to create a better life in Canada,” Akhmet said. “During the first three years, you know I was sleeping with my Canadian passport.”
“We’re so proud to be Canadians,” Dinara added.
The couple said their son took to computers and programming at a young age and frequently read books on the topic. When asked what Karim told them he did for a living, Akhmet said his son said he had a “legitimate business” hosting and selling server space online.
“He is very good in computers,” he said, adding Baratov excelled at creating websites as a side business.
Dinara said their son fully expects his charges will be dismissed and that he will be able to return home after a bail hearing on Wednesday.
In an application for Karim Baratov‘s arrest prior to March 15, U.S. authorities described him as an alleged “hacker-for-hire” paid by members of the FSB.
They argued in the documents that Baratov allegedly has the money to leave Canada and the ability to destroy evidence related to his alleged activities while on the run.
Indicted along with Baratov in the alleged conspiracy that authorities said began in January 2014 were Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43, who U.S. authorities describe as Russian intelligence agents who allegedly masterminded and directed the hacking.
Dokuchaev and Sushchin allegedly tasked Baratov with hacking more than 80 accounts in exchange for commissions, U.S. authorities have said.
Google records indicate Baratov used “spear phishing” messages designed to look like emails from trustworthy senders so recipients were “lured into opening attached files or clicking on hyperlinks in the messages and into providing valid login credentials for their accounts,” the application alleged.
Baratov would then allegedly email Dokuchaev screenshots of the successfully hacked email accounts and demand payment before handing over the login information, documents said.
U.S. authorities alleged the payments were made to various online accounts including a PayPal account that was registered to Baratov from an IP address traced to his home and linked to a bank account under his name. The documents said nearly $212,000 was paid to that account between early 2013 and late 2016, though not all would have come from the alleged conspiracy.
An affidavit from a Toronto police officer included in the application and filed with the court alleged Baratov had hacked thousands of other accounts outside of the Yahoo-related allegations and noted that “current websites advertise Baratov’s hacking services.”
Baratov appeared to live a lavish lifestyle, which he documented on public social media accounts such as Instagram, posting photos of luxury cars and money.
“He trusts for Canadian justice and he’s pretty sure he’s coming back home on Wednesday and he is brave,” Dinara said.
“He’s not criminal, he’s not violent — he’s peaceful and he is the best person in the world.”