Aleksei Burkov, a cybercriminal who long operated two of Russia’s most exclusive underground hacking forums, was arrested in 2015 by Israeli authorities. The Russian government fought Burkov’s extradition to the U.S. for four years — even arresting and jailing an Israeli woman to force a prisoner swap. That effort failed: Burkov was sent to America, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. But a little more than a year later, he was quietly released and deported back to Russia. Now some Republican lawmakers are asking why a Russian hacker once described as “an asset of supreme importance” was allowed to shorten his stay.
Aleksei Burkov, an ultra-connected Russian hacker once described as “an asset of supreme importance” to Moscow, has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to running a site that sold stolen payment card data and to administering a highly secretive crime forum that counted among its members some of the most elite Russian cybercrooks.
The Russian government has for the past four years been fighting to keep 29-year-old alleged cybercriminal Alexei Burkov from being extradited by Israel to the United States. When Israeli authorities turned down requests to send him back to Russia — supposedly to face separate hacking charges there — the Russians then imprisoned an Israeli woman for seven years on trumped-up drug charges in a bid to trade prisoners. That effort failed as well, and Burkov had his first appearance in a U.S. court last week. What follows are some clues that might explain why the Russians are so eager to reclaim this young man.