Alleged Spam Kingpin Pyotr Levashov Faces US Extradition
Spanish police have arrested a Russian computer programmer, apparently while he was vacationing in Spain with his wife and son.
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Pyotr Levashov, 36, was arrested April 7 by police in the Spanish city of Barcelona, on a U.S. international arrest warrant, reports Spanish newspaper El País. It says he’s being detained, pending his extradition hearing.
It’s unclear why Levashov was arrested, although some media reports – as well as a Russian propaganda arm – have suggested that his arrest ties to the alleged Russian government interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the arrest is a purely a civil matter, and has nothing to do with any such national security concerns.
The Russian embassy in Madrid couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. But an embassy spokesman confirmed to multiple media outlets April 9 that computer programmer Pyotr Levashov, a Russian national who resides in St. Petersburg, was arrested April 7, and that Spanish police notified embassy authorities of the arrest on the same day.
The U.S. Department of Justice said it was not able to provide information on the particulars of the arrest. “The U.S. case remains under seal, so we have no information to provide at this time,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s criminal division, tells Information Security Media Group.
Peter Severa: Alleged ‘Spam Lord’
Levashov is also known as “Peter Severa” – Pyotr is Russian for Peter – who’s a frequent contributor to underground cybercrime forums as well as a notorious “spam kingpin,” according to cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs.
Indeed, anti-spam organization Spamhaus ranks Severa as seventh on its top 10 list of “the world’s worst spammers,” noting that he “writes and sells virus-spamming spamware and botnet access” and that he is “one of the longest operating criminal spam-lords on the internet.” It says he’s also suspected of running both the Waledac and Kelihos botnets.
The Justice Department in 2008 accused “Peter Severa, age unknown, of Russia” of collaborating with Alan M. Ralsky as part of a “complicated stock spam pump and dump scheme.”
Such schemes involve hoax emails designed to coax investors into buying inexpensive stocks, in the hope that the stock’s value will be artificially inflated, allowing stock holders to sell them at a higher price. In June 2009, Ralsky pled guilty to related charges and was sentenced to serve four years in prison. He was released on September 14, 2012. But Peter Severa has apparently remained at large.