A Russian man wanted by the Justice Department on charges connected to hacking U.S. companies now claims the FBI offered him immunity in exchange for accepting responsibility for cyberattacks targeting former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Yevgeny Nikulin, the alleged hacker, laid the claim to Russian media Thursday in a letter sent from a Czech Republic prison cell amid an international extradition battle currently underway between Washington and Moscow.
FBI agents promised Mr. Nikulin money, American citizenship and a free apartment for taking the fall over hacking Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, he alleged in a letter published Thursday by Nastoyashchoe Vremya, a Russian-language website.
“[They told me:] you will have to confess to breaking into Clinton’s inbox for [President Trump] on behalf of [Russian President Vladimir Putin],” Mr. Nikulin wrote, as translated by The Moscow Times.
“He was offered to falsely testify that he was cooperating in the attack on the Democratic Party,” defense attorney Martin Sadilek said Thursday, the Associated Press reported.
The FBI declined to comment.
Mr. Nikulin was apprehended in Prague last October pursuant to an internal arrest warrant and was subsequently charged by a federal grand jury in California with hacking LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, three San Francisco-based internet companies. He’s wanted in both the U.S. and Russia, however, and has remained for months in Czech custody as authorities review requests from both countries.
FBI agents interviewed Mr. Nikulin twice since his arrest, he wrote, and each time asked him to confess to hacking American political targets. Mr. Nikulin said he refused their initial request last November, then received a second offer three months later.
FBI agents asked Mr. Nikulin to admit hacking Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, Democratic Party computers and American polling stations “on Putin’s orders,” he wrote. In exchange, he alleges, the FBI said he’d be extradited to the U.S. but ultimately given money, citizenship and a free apartment.
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in January that Mr. Putin directed the Russian government to wage an influence campaign during last year’s White House race aimed at hindering Mrs. Clinton’s odds of defeating her rival and the election’s ultimate victor, Mr. Trump, using state-sponsored hackers, government-funded propaganda outlets and various internet conduits, among other facets.
The Justice Department has charged Mr. Nikulin with hacking LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring, but not for cyberattacks on the political targets compromised during the run up to last year’s election. The U.S. government has largely attributed those cyberattacks to a division of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, referred to by names including APT 28, Pawn Storm and Fancy Bear.
An extradition hearing concerning Mr. Nikulin had scheduled for Thursday, May 11, in Prague, but proceedings were abruptly postponed until May 30 due to formal objections raised by defense attorneys involving language barriers and other issues, the Associated Press reported.