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Russian sought by US over ‘Ryuk’ ransomware extradited from Netherlands

Conti is both a type of ransomware and the name of the group behind it. (Thamrongpat Theerathammakorn/Dreamstime/TNS)

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

A Russian national sought by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly laundering cryptocurrency tied to a notorious ransomware gang has been extradited to the United States from the Netherlands.

Denis Dubnikov, 29, a Russian citizen, made his initial appearance in federal court in Portland on August 17, the Justice Department said in a statement.

A five-day jury trial is scheduled to begin on October 4.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Dubnikov and his co-conspirators of laundering the proceeds of ransomware attacks on individuals and organizations throughout the United States and abroad.

Dubnikov and his accomplices allegedly laundered $400,000 in ransom payments from victims of Ryuk, a ransomware gang believed to have extracted $70 million from individuals and companies around the world, including the United States.

Dubnikov, who owns small crypto exchanges in Russia, was detained in the Netherlands in November after he was denied entry into Mexico and put on a plane back to the EU country and U.S. ally.

A lawyer representing him at the time said he did not know the source of the money that the United States alleges came from ransomware payments.

Dubnikov’s arrest has been called one of U.S. law enforcement’s first potential blows to the Ryuk ransomware gang, which is suspected of being behind a rash of cyberattacks on U.S. health-care organizations.

The attacks forced delays in potentially life-saving treatments for cancer and other patients.

In October 2020, the FBI and other U.S. agencies warned that Ryuk presented an “imminent” threat to U.S. health-care institutions. The Wall Street Journal said the Ryuk gang took in more than $100 million in ransom payments last year.

In a ransomware attack, a criminal encrypts files on a target computer network and demands payment in cryptocurrency to unlock them. In the health-care industry, where time is often critical, such delays can result in deadly outcomes.

Dubnikov’s extradition comes amid high-level talks between Moscow and Washington about a prisoner swap.

The Biden administration said in July it was ready to carry out a prisoner swap with the Kremlin to free a few Americans held in jail in Russia, including women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

In an interview with RFE/RL in early August, Arkady Bukh, a New York-based lawyer who has represented hundreds of Russian-speaking foreigners, said that Dubnikov could potentially be part of the prisoner swap.

Bukh said at the time that he expected Dubnikov to be extradited to the United States in August.