By ARITZ PARRA
MADRID (AP) — The lawyer defending a Russian computer programmer arrested in Spain says flaws in the extradition request by the United States signal a political motivation behind the prosecution.
Attorney Juan Manuel Arroyo said accusations that 31-year-old Stanislav Lisov was involved in a network that used a Trojan virus to steal online financial information are an excuse to have him extradited from Spain, where he was detained in January.
Lisov is wanted in the U.S. for crimes related to the ‘NeverQuest’ malicious software, which syphoned $855,000 (743,000 euros) from bank clients in the country.
Spain’s Civil Guard cooperated with FBI agents in January to arrest Lisov in Barcelona’s airport, when the programmer and his wife were wrapping up their honeymoon.
The initial investigation linked the programmer to the rental and purchase of computer servers in France and Germany that controlled a network of computers infected with ‘NeverQuest’ for accessing users’ data and passwords for banking and financial websites.
The public prosecutor said during a hearing Thursday at the National Court in Madrid that there’s no evidence of ideological prosecution and asked for Lisov to be handed over to U.S. authorities.
The defense argued that there were procedural flaws in the arrest of Lisov and said authorities had failed to establish the programmer’s responsibility in the creation, distribution and use of the virus or the extent of his direct damage in the theft of the data.
Arroyo also said Lisov is, together with other Russian computer experts and scientists sought by the U.S., a victim of the diplomatic “chess game” involving Washington and Moscow.
“The lack of specifics makes us think that the request is following spurious interests that escape us,” he said, requesting that the extradition be rejected.
Hackers broke into the computer network of the U.S. Democratic National Committee starting in 2015, which federal officials and cybersecurity experts have publicly tied to Russian intelligence services.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been blunt in their assessment that the hacks of Democratic email accounts were intended to benefit Donald Trump, who became the U.S. president, and harm his contender, Hillary Clinton.
There is no mention of the electoral hacking allegations in the U.S. extradition request for Lisov, lawyers and court officials who have seen the documents told The Associated Press.
The judge is reviewing the extradition case and is expected to rule in the coming days, court officials said. The Spanish government has the final word but rarely contradicts rulings on extraditions.
Appearing before the judge Thursday, Lisov spoke through a translator to request not to be extradited and to answer questions by his own defense.
The computer programmer said at the time of the alleged crimes he worked for a private company that developed joint projects with the Russian government.
This month, Lisov asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help given the “injustice and arbitrariness showed by U.S. authorities,” according to excerpts of a letter published by Russian broadcaster RT.
Diplomats have visited Lisov in detention and are taking “all the necessary measures to protect,” a Russian embassy spokeswoman in Madrid told the AP. She didn’t respond to whether Russia was filing a counter-extradition request but another of Lisov’s lawyers, Oleg Goubarev, said there was no such plan.
The U.S. Justice Department is also seeking the extradition of another Russian citizen, Pyotr Levashov, who was arrested in Barcelona in April accused of running a computer network that sends hundreds of millions of spam emails worldwide.
Levashov was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including accessing protected computers and aggravated identity theft. There is no date set for his extradition hearing in Spain.
U.S. officials in Madrid said they are not allowed to publicly comment on pending extradition requests.