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Russian citizen pleads not guilty in alleged ransomware plot against Tesla

Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada (Smnt/WikiCommons)
September 26, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Russian man accused of offering $1 million to an employee of U.S. electric car company Tesla to enable a ransomware attack denied wrongdoing on September 24 before a judge in Nevada.

Egor Igorevich Kriuchkov told the court he was not guilty of a conspiracy charge to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer.

Authorities have not alleged that Kriuchkov has ties to the Kremlin, but Kriuchkov, 26, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Carla Baldwin that he knew the Russian government was aware of his case.

Kriuchkov was in the United States on a Russian passport and a tourist visa when he tried to recruit an employee of what was identified as “Company A” to install software enabling a computer hack, according to the complaint against him.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged in a tweet on August 27 his company was the target of what he termed a “serious attack.”

Tesla has a factory near Reno that makes batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage units.

The Tesla employee, who the FBI described as a Russian-speaking immigrant, notified Tesla and the FBI about the proposed payment of $1 million after his first meeting with Kriuchkov, according to the court document.

Kriuchkov is accused of spending more weeks meeting and traveling with the unnamed employee, according to court documents. Some meetings were monitored and recorded by the FBI, which said the plot was stopped before any damage occurred.

Kriuchkov, who spoke in English during the hearing on September 24, told the court he wanted to go through the process “as fast as possible.”

Baldwin ordered Kriuchkov to remain in federal custody pending his trial, which is scheduled to begin on December 1. He is being held without bail.

A conviction could bring a sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to a U.S. attorney in Nevada. Deportation could follow a prison term.

His appointed attorneys, federal public defenders Sylvia Irvin and Brandon Jaroch, did not immediately respond to messages about his court appearance, AP reported. The hearing was held by videoconference due to restrictions on in-person gatherings amid the pandemic.

Kriuchkov, who arrived in the United States in late July, was arrested August 22 in Los Angeles, where prosecutors say he was heading to an airport to fly out of the country.