RIGA - The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has accepted a petition filed by attorneys for Deniss Calovskis, a citizen of Latvia charged with cyber crimes in the United States, and has temporarily halted Calovskis’ extradition to the United States, said Calovskis’ attorney, Saulvedis Varpins, reports LETA.
In a letter to Varpins, the ECHR says that Calovskis must not be extradited to the United States until his case is reviewed by the Strasbourg court. The ECHR letter also says that Calovskis’ case will have priority over other cases due to be reviewed by the court. In the meantime, Calovskis is still in Riga Central Prison.
The government on Aug. 6 agreed to extradite suspect Calovskis to the United States.
U.S. law enforcement institutions brought charges against three alleged East European cyber thieves accused of stealing banking information from computers across Europe and the United States, including Calovskis.
The alleged international cyber criminals were responsible for creating and distributing a computer virus that infected over one million computers - at least 40,000 of which were in the United States - and caused millions in losses by, among other things, stealing online banking credentials, the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan said.
The defendants allegedly used a malicious computer code, or malware, dubbed the ‘Gozi Virus’ to hack into bank accounts and “steal millions of dollars,” stated the indictment against Calovskis, also known as ‘Miami,’ who was arrested in Latvia.
Prosecutors say the scam unfolded between 2005 and March 2012 and that the virus was “virtually undetectable in the computers it infected.” First, it was implanted in computers across Europe “on a vast scale,” then around 2010 it spread to the United States, the Calovskis indictment said.
Cyber crime law enforcement deficient
While Latvian Criminal Law does provide jail sentences and penalties for cyber crimes, the law can seldom be applied in practice because Latvian authorities simply lack the capacity for investigation of such crimes, Saeima Legal Affairs Committee member Andrejs Judins said in an interview with LETA.
“Very few cyber criminals have been caught in Latvia,” notes Judins. “I will not evaluate the specialized police department’s activities, but there have been no noteworthy results. Besides, many structural units of the police are short of qualified officers,” he emphasizes. Judins says that Calovskis, who has been charged with serious cyber crimes, is hardly the only person in Latvia who “knows something about computers,” although Judins refuses to comment on whether there is enough evidence to implicate Calovskis.
The main problem with the Criminal Law in the area of cyber crime is the legal terminology. The law, which was approved many years ago, does not mention such words as “virus” or “computer,” and there are definitions instead that describe these terms.
Nevertheless, the penalties that the Criminal Law provides for cyber crime are adequate, he says. “Elsewhere in Europe, such crimes carry no less than two years in prison, while we have three and more years in jail,” notes Judins.
Large-scale computer fraud currently carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison under the Criminal Law, whereas criminal use of information technologies to target a key infrastructure object may be qualified as terrorism, for which perpetrators may receive life sentences. Unauthorized access to automated data processing system and hampering with the system carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. There also are no problems with holding legal entities responsible for such crimes.
Therefore, the penalties for hackers is the last thing that Latvia should worry about - changing the law’s provisions that deal with cyber crime and increasing the authorities’ capacity to catch criminals is the main problem, believes Judins.
Review process continues
The Justice Ministry too is evaluating petitions from Calovskis’ defense team submitted to the ECHR. Justice Ministry press secretary Ksenija Vitola said the ministry has also received the Cabinet of Ministers’ extradition order for Calovskis.
Vitola says that once the European Court of Human Rights makes a temporary decision in favor of Calovskis, then the court informs the Cabinet of its decision, which in turn informs the proper institutions in Latvia.
If found guilty by a court in the United States, Calovskis could face a maximum sentence of 67 years in prison. However, University of Latvia Mathematics and Information Institute senior researcher Bruno Martizans admits that no hacker convicted of crimes against banks has received a prison sentence of over 20 years, thus he believes Calovskis could be sentenced to two or three years in jail.
Varpins previously said that his client continues to categorically deny his involvement in the criminal group.
If Calovskis expresses the desire for consular assistance, the Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department and the Latvian Embassy in the United States will offer him the same consular assistance which the country provides for its citizens, says the Foreign Ministry.