A 20-year-old Cypriot wanted for hacking offences in the United States is set to be the country’s first citizen to be extradited there, his lawyer said Monday.
The FBI accuses Joshua Epifaniou of extorting thousands of dollars from US firms while still a teenager by breaking into their IT systems and threatening to leak their data if they didn’t pay.
Following a protracted case, during which Epifaniou spent almost two years in prison, a Nicosia district court ruled late last week to extradite him.
“He is the first Cypriot to be extradited to the US and the first Cypriot to be extradited since a change in the constitution in 2013 after Cyprus joined the EU,” his defence lawyer Michael Chambers told AFP.
His defence team tried to block his extradition, arguing that Epifaniou was aged 15 to 17 at the time and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and communication.
“We argued that as he suffers from Asperger’s it would be against his human rights to be extradited and because of his age at the time, but the judge didn’t accept this,” said Chambers.
“There are other risks to his well-being such as the dangers he faces in the federal prison system.”
The lawyer said the young Cypriot faces 20 years in prison in two US states, Georgia and Arizona, if convicted of several counts of wire and computer fraud, identity theft and extortion.
“When you are 16, doing something like this from a bedroom in Nicosia, you can’t fathom the seriousness of your actions, there is no understanding of the consequences.”
Chambers said he was discussing with his client whether to appeal the decision.
Epifaniou was initially arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of carrying out a so-called DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attack on a private Cypriot telecoms firm.
Police later detained him when the US filed its extradition request in January 2018.
Chambers said the case has many similarities to that of Lauri Love, a British activist wanted by the US for hacking into FBI, US Central Bank and NASA systems.
Last year, UK appeals court judges ruled against an extradition as Love also suffers from Asperger’s.
“The Love case in the UK is almost identical but the UK didn’t extradite him,” said Chambers.