HAMILTON, Ontario (Reuters) - The Canadian charged in connection with a massive hack of Yahoo accounts that the United States says was a Russian plot is a young man who has boasted on social media of his wealth and love of expensive cars, online accounts show.
Karim Baratov, a 22-year-old dual Kazakh-Canadian citizen, is fighting extradition to face U.S. charges he was paid by Russian intelligence agents to break into email accounts. The 2014 theft of 500 million Yahoo Inc accounts was at the time the largest ever such breach.
Speaking by text message, Baratov’s lawyer, Amedeo DiCarlo, said on Friday that his client denies all the allegations. He called Baratov a “political scapegoat” and added he “is healthy and confident.”
Canadian police arrested and detained Baratov on Tuesday in Hamilton, Ontario. DiCarlo also spoke to reporters outside the Hamilton court where Baratov was due to appear via video on Friday, adding that a bail hearing was to be set for April 5.
Baratov was one of four people charged in a U.S. Justice Department indictment on Wednesday that portrayed Russian security services as having worked hand-in-hand with cyber criminals in the Yahoo case. U.S. authorities are seeking his extradition and have up to 60 days to prepare their case prior to an extradition hearing; until then, Baratov’s arrest is provisional.
Baratov has an extensive presence on social media, especially in online groups devoted to exotic-car aficionados.
On sites including Facebook and Instagram, photos show him posing in front of a string of high-end cars bearing his personalized license plates.
He also boasts of having paid off a mortgage while still in high school and of having sold an internet company for $20 million as a teen. Reuters has been unable to verify either of those claims, and his lawyer did not respond to specific queries about them.
Neighbors said they knew Baratov as a young man who threw parties with attendees’ fancy cars stretching up and down the block.
On his Instagram account, Baratov is seen partying in Toronto nightclubs, flexing his muscles and talking about workouts and taking supplements.
Silvia, a 66-year-old retired hospital worker who lives around the corner from Baratov and who declined to give her last name, said that last Halloween he gave her trick-or-treating grandson and other children a fistful of U.S. dollar bills.
“It was weird,” she said.
DiCarlo declined to comment when asked what Baratov did to support his lifestyle.
On Thursday, nobody answered the phone or responded to knocks at the door of the two-storey house on Chamber Drive in Hamilton, a city 75 kilometers (45 miles) west of Toronto where Baratov lives.
The Toronto Star newspaper reported that the house had been listed for sale on Monday for C$930,000 ($698,146) but was abruptly de-listed on Wednesday. Neighbors said the “For Sale” sign was taken down the same day.
Two men and a woman who arrived at the house on Thursday and said they were looking to buy the house were shown inside by a man who told Reuters he was brokering a potential sale.
Baratov lives alone in the three-bedroom house, neighbors said, but his parents sometimes visit. They said his father, who was there when Baratov was arrested, helped him move in, in the summer of 2015, and was sometimes was seen shoveling snow from his son’s sidewalk.
Reporting by Alastair Sharp; Writing by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Frances Kerry