Nikita Kislitsin at 5th International PLUS-Forum in Moscow in 2013
Nikita Kislitsin at the 5th International PLUS-Forum in Moscow in 2013. Image: @PLUSforums / YouTube

Kazakhstan refuses to extradite detained Russian cyber expert to US

Kazakhstan’s government has decided not to extradite a prominent Russian cybersecurity expert to the U.S. and will instead consider sending him to Russia.

Nikita Kislitsin was detained in Kazakhstan earlier in June at the request of the U.S. He was charged with selling usernames and passwords belonging to American customers of the now-defunct social media company Formspring in 2012.

A Kazakh court ruled to keep Kislitsin in custody until a decision is made on his potential extradition to Russia, an official from the Russian General Consulate in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, told Russian news agency Tass.

Kislitsin, who served as the head of network security at cybersecurity company Group-IB and its Russia-based spinoff F.A.C.C.T., said earlier that he is determined to go back to his homeland and has no plans to consider other options, such as seeking asylum in Kazakhstan.

At the same time, a Moscow court also issued an arrest warrant for Kislitsin, charging him with unauthorized access to protected computer information. Russia said it will also seek his extradition from Kazakhstan.

A senior Russian diplomat in Kazakhstan said that the country had sent a note to Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, urging authorities not to extradite Kislitsin to the U.S.

Once in Russia, Kislitsin could potentially evade transfer to the U.S. — a tactic that Moscow has employed in the past.

Wanted hackers often choose to flee to former Soviet countries such as Armenia, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, believing they will be safe from foreign prosecution there.

Kislitsin’s case is the latest dispute between Moscow and Washington over accused Russian cybercriminals and spies held in other countries at the request of the U.S. authorities.

Last week, Brazilian authorities refused a U.S. request for the extradition of a suspected Russian spy, stating that they plan to send him to Russia instead. In Russia, he was accused of drug trafficking.

Analysts viewed the man detained in Brazil as a potential candidate for a prisoner exchange with Russia, involving two Americans detained in Moscow on espionage charges: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

It remains unclear if the U.S. considers Kislitsin as a potential candidate for such a swap.

Kislitsin traveled abroad frequently in recent years, including to Kazakhstan, for both business and personal reasons, F.A.С.С.T. told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. He had no problems crossing the border, according to the company.

Another figure associated with Group-IB, co-founder Ilya Sachkov, was sentenced on July 26 to 14 years in a Russian prison colony on top-secret charges of treason. Sachkov denies the accusations.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.