Accused Russian Hacker's Lawyers Say He May Be Mentally Ill

(Bloomberg) -- Attorneys for a Russian national accused of hacking U.S. technology companies want a psychiatric evaluation of Yevgeniy Nikulin to determine whether he’s mentally fit to face trial in January.

Nikulin was extradited to San Francisco from the Czech Republic in March, amid objections from the Russian government, after being charged with hacking LinkedIn and Dropbox. Within days, Nikulin attempted a violent escape, and later wadded up toilet paper to stuff into air vents, according to court filings.

Nikulin’s attorneys told a federal judge Friday that the Russian may be suffering from a mental condition that makes him incompetent to assist in his defense.

His case has been closely watched among a spate of cyber attacks and political meddling blamed by U.S. authorities on Russians. Russia has denied allegations of interfering with the 2016 presidential campaign.

Since March, Nikulin hasn’t cooperated with his legal team, his attorney, Valery Nechay, said in an interview. During court hearings, Nikulin has appeared gaunt and has stared at the courtroom audience, as if looking for a familiar face.

“He’s perfectly polite and asks questions about how I’m doing and how’s the weather, but beyond those basic questions, he doesn’t respond," said Nechay, who said she hasn’t observed any evidence of violent behavior from Nikulin. “Often times he just stares off blankly or starts laughing at very serious moments. We are not sure he understands the gravity of his situation.”

The Russian was indicted on multiple counts of computer-enabled fraud and identity theft stemming from cyber attacks in 2012 and 2013 that also included Formspring, a San Francisco-based social networking company. He faces a lengthy prison term if convicted.

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