Israel Moves Hacker Wanted by U.S., Russia Into Protective Custody to Ensure His Safety

Decision comes despite no indication other inmates plan to hurt Aleksey Burkov, or that he would harm himself ■ Moscow has pressed Israel to exchange Burkov for an Israeli recently charged with drug smuggling

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Aleksey Burkov, being detained by Israeli police officers.
Aleksey Burkov, being detained by Israeli police officers.Credit: Courtesy of News Channel 13, Reshet

A Russian hacker wanted by both Washington and Moscow has been transferred to a special cellblock where he can be better protected, the Israel Prison Service said on Tuesday.

“Following a situation assessment conducted by the Prison Service together with representatives of the relevant government ministries regarding the detention conditions of detainee Aleksey Burkov, it was decided to transfer the detainee to a monitored cellblock to ensure his wellbeing,” the service said in a press statement.

The Prison Service said it has no indication that other prisoners plan to harm Burkov or that he plans to commit suicide. Nevertheless, in light of the recent media buzz about his case, it decided to be “doubly cautious” and move him to a different cellblock.

Furthermore, the IPS sought to hold a disciplinary proceeding against Burkov for giving interviews to Israeli news outlets against prison protocols, but decided not to do so, fearing disciplinary actions against the Russian hacker would influence the detention conditions of Naama Issachar, an Israeli arrested for possession of 9.6 grams of hashish while changing planes in Russia en route back to Israel from India.

In response, the IPS said: "The detainee was interviewed and warned by the prison commander. He was also given specific phone numbers to which he can call. During the situation assessment we held, the entirety of relevant materials was examined and decisions were taken accordingly."

At this point, it remains unclear when Burkov will be extradited to the United States.  

Israel recently refused a Russian proposal for a prisoner swap, under which Burkov would be traded for Issachar. 

The Supreme Court has already approved Burkov’s extradition to the United States, but the government must still make a final decision.

On Friday, a Russian court sentenced Issachar to 7.5 years in prison. Burkov subsequently said in an interview with Channel 13 television that “Naama and I are both being held in jail as a result of political games.” He sent his best wishes to Issachar and her family, adding, “My family has been in the exact same situation for four years already. You have to be optimistic.”

“My sole hope is that the prisoner exchange will take place,” Burkov continued. “It would be worthwhile for both countries and would also bring me and Issachar home. I think it could be done quickly.”

America is seeking Burkov’s extradition because he is charged with committing a $20 million fraud by running a website that sold the credit card details of some 150,000 Americans to online criminals. In August 2015, an international arrest warrant was issued for him. He was also charged in a Virginia court with several counts of fraud, identity theft, computer hacking and money laundering.

According to a brief filed by U.S. prosecutors, he publicized his website on underground internet forums widely used by online criminals and solicited those criminals to steal credit card data and sell it. Burkov has never confessed to the charges.

He was arrested in late 2015 while crossing the border from Egypt into Israel.