Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Russian businessman convicted of U.S. hack-and-trade charges

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Russian businessman convicted of U.S. hack-and-trade charges © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vladislav Klyushin, an owner of an information technology company with ties to the Russian government, is seen in an undated photograph attached to a U.S. Department of Justice filing. U.S. Dept. of Justice/Handout via REUTERS

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A U.S. jury convicted a wealthy Russian businessman of charges that he and others with ties to the Kremlin made tens of millions of dollars by hacking U.S. computer networks to obtain secret, inside information about multiple companies which they used to make trade.

Vladislav Klyushin, the owner of a Moscow-based information technology company called M-13 that did work for the Russian government, was found guilty on Tuesday by a federal jury in Boston of charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud following a trial, prosecutors said.

Of the five Russian nationals charged with carrying out the nearly $90 million scheme, Klyushin, 42, was the only one to be arrested and face trial after he was apprehended in Switzerland during a ski trip in March 2021 and extradited to the United States.

The other four remain at large, including Ivan Ermakov, a former Russian military intelligence officer who worked at M-13 and is wanted by the U.S. government for his alleged involvement in hacking schemes to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and target anti-doping agencies.

Klyushin’s trial came a low point in U.S.-Russia relations following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year. While the charges predate the war, Klyushin’s connections to the Kremlin have long intrigued U.S. authorities.

His lawyers had argued there was zero evidence he possessed inside information and knew of any hacking, and his attorney in Switzerland said the real reason Klyushin was charged was his Russian government connections.

That lawyer, Oliver Ciric, has said U.S. intelligence officials tried to recruit Klyushin in 2019 and that British intelligence did the same a year later.

Prosecutors said Klyushin and his associates made nearly $90 million trading stocks based on yet-to-be-announced information that hackers stole about hundreds of publicly traded companies.

The hackers broke into the networks of two firms that help publicly traded companies file reports with U.S. securities regulators, Donnelley Financial Solutions (NYSE:) and Toppan Merrill, prosecutors said.

Hackers from 2018 to 2020 viewed and downloaded yet-to-be-announced earnings reports for hundreds of companies including Tesla (NASDAQ:) Inc and Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:), which Klyushin and others used to trade before the news was public.

The stolen financial information about those companies allowed Klyushin to turned a $2 million investment into nearly $21 million and the group as a whole to turn about $9 million into nearly $90 million, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyer Maksim Nemtsev at trial argued the prosecution’s case was built on “gaping holes and inferences,” and that trading was based on news and social media posts that Klyushin’s company monitored to forecast stocks.

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