CYPRUS: First Cypriot to be extradited to US in websites hacking case

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A 20-year-old wanted for hacking offences in the United States will be the first Cypriot to be extradited to the US following a decision by a Nicosia court he should stand trial there, his lawyer said.


Following a protracted case, a Nicosia district court ruled last week to extradite Cypriot citizen Joshua Epifaniou to the US where he is wanted for extortion through hacking offences while still a minor.

“He is the first Cypriot to be extradited to the US and the first Cypriot to be extradited since a change in the constitution in 2013 after Cyprus joined the EU,” the Cypriot’s lawyer Michael Chambers said.

The extradition hearing lasted for almost two years while Epifaniou has remained in prison during that time.

Defence lawyers tried to block the man’s extradition based on the fact that Epifaniou was a minor at the time and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and communication.

“We argued that as he suffers from Asperger’s it would be against his human rights to be extradited and because of his age at the time but the judge didn’t accept this,” said Chambers.

He said medical evidence and expert witnesses were presented before the court to prove the suspect suffered from Asperger’s while his mental health would deteriorate if sent to the US, but the judge was not convinced.

“There was testimony saying it would be against Joshua’s human rights because of his age, he’s never been to the US, he has no family there,” said Chambers.

“There are other risks to his well-being such as the dangers he faces in the federal prison system…an expert said he might have suicidal tendencies,” he added.

The young Cypriot faces 20 years in prison in two US states – Georgia and Arizona — where he faces several counts of wire and computer fraud, identity theft and extortion, according to legal documents.

“When you are 16, doing something like this from a bedroom in Nicosia, you can’t fathom the seriousness of your actions, there is no understanding of the consequences.”

 

Chambers said he was now discussing with his client whether to appeal the decision, there is a 42-day deadline in which to do so.

Epifaniou was initially arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of carrying out a DDoS attack (distributed denial of service) on private Cypriot telecoms firm Cablenet which crashed their servers for around 12 hours.

Police again detained him, when the US filed an extradition request in January 2018, as the FBI suspected him of orchestrating hacking attacks committed between 2014 and 2016 when Epifaniou was aged 15-17.

He is accused of obtaining thousands of US dollars from at least five US firms by accessing their systems and threatening to leak their data if they didn’t pay.

According to US legal documents, “Epifaniou caused more than $550,000 in losses to the victim websites”.

His lawyers argued that the offences took place in Cyprus and the Cypriot hadn’t fled the US as a fugitive of justice, so there was no reason for extradition.

Cypriot authorities suspended prosecution given they backed the extradition request and withdrew after the 14 November decision.

Chambers said the Cyprus case has many similarities to that of Lauri Love a UK activist wanted by the US for hacking into FBI, US Central Bank and Nasa systems.

Last year, UK appeal court judges said extradition would be "oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition" as Love suffered from Asperger’s and could be tried in Britain.

“The Love case in the UK is almost identical but the UK didn’t extradite him, and the charges were more serious,” said Chambers.

Epifaniou is described as a bright student who comes from a broken home with his Cypriot father absent and Filipina mother, 54, finding it hard to make ends meet.