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Why the Hell Did America Just Send This Master Cybercriminal Back to Russia?

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This week, Aleksei Burkov, a convicted Russian cybercriminal, waltzed into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, boarded a commercial flight, and flew back home to Moscow unimpeded.

But he wasn’t on the lam from U.S. law enforcement. U.S. immigration officials told The Daily Beast that the government chose to send him back to Russia and officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) escorted him onto his flight.

That’s despite the fact that just one year ago, Burkov, who ran cybercrime forums used by the crème de la crème of Russian hackers and a forum that sold stolen payment card data, was sentenced to nine years in prison in the U.S.

Former U.S. officials have said the government’s decision to let Burkov go free this week has left them somewhat befuddled. The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, making this kind of release incredibly rare, and Burkov’s arrest and extradition were particularly hard-fought. He was originally arrested in Israel at the request of U.S. authorities in 2015, then later extradited to the U.S. to face charges related to facilitating more than $20 million in credit card fraud. Over the course of the years-long international sentencing effort, U.S. law enforcement officials resisted Moscow’s efforts to bring him home, making the decision to hand him over to Russia—which has typically been sympathetic towards Russian cybercriminals hacking U.S. entities and Americans—even more surprising.

The U.S. government doesn’t have a consistent line on who was responsible for letting Burkov go. The White House and Departments of Justice and State told The Daily Beast to talk to ICE. The FBI, however, referred The Daily Beast to the Secret Service, which investigates financial cybercrime and was key to Burkov’s indictment. But the Secret Service referred The Daily Beast to ICE.

Nonetheless, Burkov was transferred from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to ICE custody on Aug. 25, according to government records, which don’t indicate the reason behind the transfer. From there, ICE released Burkov to Moscow.

“Burkov is wanted by Russian authorities,” Dani Bennett, an ICE spokesperson, said of the decision to send him to Russia. Bennett added there is an INTERPOL Red Notice out for him and that there has been an arrest warrant out for Burkov since 2017 in Russia.

It’s not entirely clear why the U.S. would reverse course on its past efforts to bring Russian criminals to justice in U.S. courtrooms and feed one........

© The Daily Beast

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