Russian Hacker Jailed in Israel Says He's Not a Spy, Denies Meddling in U.S. Election

Aleksey Burkov tells Haaretz he would like to see Israel accepting a Russian proposal for a prisoner swap deal between him and an Israeli woman jailed in Russia on drug charges

Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov attending a court hearing at the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem, November 3, 2019.
Oren Ben Hakun

Russian hacker Aleksey Burkov told Haaretz on Sunday that he didn’t work with the government in Moscow and was not part of a Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Burkov called the accusations against him “fake news,” and expressed support for the Russian proposal for a prisoner swap between him and 25-year-old Israeli woman Naama Issachar, who is jailed in Russia on drug charges. He said that it was a “good and friendly” idea.

Also Sunday, Burkov attended a High Court hearing which discussed a request submitted by Haaretz to reveal the minutes of proceedings conducted in March. Justices Anat Baron, George Kara and Alex Stein acceded to the request, which was submitted by attorneys Tali Lieblich and Bar Laudon.

“From the get-go, our opinion was that the case should be publicized in its entirety,” Burkov’s defense attorney, Michael Ironi of the Public Defender’s Office, said. “I’m pleased that, at least in the late stages [of the proceedings], the Israeli media will be exposed to some of the materials.” Burkov said that he wants his entire story “to be publicized by the Israeli media.”

Minutes from the hearing held in March that have been made public show that the justices were not aware of Moscow's request to extradite Burkov, despite the fact that it was submitted as early as 2017. Justice Stein told Burkov's attorneys in March that "Should Russia request [Burkov's] extradition, we'll discuss it."

Burko'v attorney confirmed in the hearing that that hacker is in contact with Russian officials, most likely from the Russian Embassy in Israel. Furthermore, it appears that Moscow has linked between its request to extradite Burkov to Russia and another detainee who is held in Russia and is not extradited to Moldova at Israel's request.

The delayed extradition      

Burkov's attorneys argue their client should be extradited to Russia since the offences attributed to him were carried out on Russian soil, in addition to the fact that he is a Russian national and that his center of life was in Russia.

"It's clear that the petitioner's extradition to the United States would lead to a complete severance of [Burkov's] ties not only with his family but with everything familiar to him," the petition read. The Russian hacker's attorneys suggested a compromise, according to which Burkov would be extradited to the U.S., but will serve his sentence in Russia.   

The hacker arrived at the proceeding under heavy Israel Prison Service security. As in previous proceedings related to his case, a representative of the Russian Embassy in Israel was in attendance.

Last week Justice Minister Amir Ohana signed an order to extradite Burkov to the United States, against which Burkov's attorneys petitioned the High Court. On Thursday the Issachar family also petitioned against the signing of the order, demanding that Israel agree to the Russian proposal or, alternatively, delay the extradition until Issachar is released. The state said today in response to the family’s petition that it is not opposed to having the High Court issue a temporary injunction against Burkov’s extradition.

In August 2015, an indictment was filed against him in a U.S. court listing a long series of offences, including fraud, identity theft, hacking and money laundering. An international arrest warrant was issued at the same time, which led to his arrest in Israel. Burkov, 29, has been in detention in Hadarim Prison in the Sharon area since, awaiting his extradition.

According to the indictment, the U.S. Secret Service (which, in addition to protecting senior government officials, is responsible for fighting fraud) found that Burkov ran a website that sold credit card details of about 150,000 Americans with criminal intent, in a fraud estimated at around $20 million.

The Secret Service succeeded in locating Burkov, after he posted a photo from a vacation in Thailand. He later visited Egypt, and was arrested when he tried to cross the border to the Israeli southern city of Eilat. After the extradition process to the United States got underway, Russia submitted its own extradition request for the hacker, on grounds also related to internet fraud.