A Russian businessman and accused hacker may have critical information on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to a recent report from Bloomberg. Luckily for U.S. authorities, the businessman in question was arrested and recently extradited to the U.S. on unrelated criminal charges.
Vladislav Klyushin, the 41-year-old owner of Russian IT firm M-13, has provided cybersecurity services to major government agencies in Russia—making him, as Bloomberg has put it, “the highest-level Kremlin insider handed to U.S. law enforcement in recent memory.”
He was arrested near an alpine ski resort in Switzerland late last March as he and his wife and kids were en route to a family vacation. (Switzerland—unlike Russia—has an official extradition treaty with the U.S.) He was subsequently extradited to the U.S. in mid-December.
The extradition is tied to an April 2020 indictment against Klyushin and two colleagues, Ivan Yermakov and Nikolai Rumiantcev, charging them with being the culprits of an elaborate insider trading scheme. According to the indictment, the trio hacked into federal agencies responsible for storing U.S. companies’ earnings reports and then used that information to make stock trades on the companies prior to the reports’ public release. In this fashion, they allegedly made upwards of $82.5 million by placing loaded trades related to firms like Tesla, Microsoft, Snap Inc., and others.
Klyushin’s lawyer, Oliver Ciric, has claimed that American authorities illegally hacked the businessman’s phone in order to locate him and thus tip-off Swiss police about his presence in their country. Ciric further told Bloomberg that U.S. officials believe that Klyushin may have important information about Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that he may be persuaded to give up that information in exchange for a potential reprieve from a long prison sentence related to his insider trading charges.
Just what kind of information could Klyushin have? According to sources interviewed by Bloomberg, Russian intelligence has come to believe that the businessman is in possession of documents proving that hackers working for Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, broke into Democratic Party servers in 2016. However, the specific contents of those hypothetical documents are, like the documents’ own existence, unknown at this point.
Russian meddling in the 2016 election is naturally a complex, often murky topic, though, in this case, Klyushin appears to have a connection to it. One of his co-conspirators in the insider trading case, Ivan Yermakov, was indicted in 2018 as one of 12 Russian nationals accused of hacking various Democratic Party organizations to influence the election. All of the operatives—including Yermakov—were characterized as members of the GRU.
For his part, Klyushin hasn’t publicly copped to anything. Through his lawyer, the businessman has blamed his arrest on an “operation mounted by the U.S. in cooperation with Swiss authorities” to obtain “certain confidential information” that the Americans believe he possesses, Bloomberg reports.