Lawyer says young hacker’s Asperger’s was never fully taken into account
By Jonathan Shkurko
The case of 20-year-old Joshua Epiphaniou, who is poised to become the first ever Cypriot citizen to be extradited to the United States, will be appealed, the young man’s lawyer told the Sunday Mail this week.
In a controversial lawsuit on November 18, the judge presiding over the computer hacking case ruled that Epiphaniou should stand trial in the US where he faces 20 years in prison in two states, Georgia and Arizona, on charges including wire and computer fraud, identity theft and extortion.
All the offences were committed when Epiphaniou, who has Asperger’s, was a minor.
“The ruling goes against his basic human rights. The judge did not give any weight to these issues, because she believes Cyprus has the duty to extradite him,” Epiphaniou’s lawyer Michael Chambers told the Sunday Mail, adding that the extent of his Asperger’s was never fully taken into account.
Epiphaniou’s mother is distraught over the ruling.
“I have only one son and to see him risk a 20-year conviction in a country he has never visited is heartbreaking,” 54-year-old Vivina told the newspaper.
He was initially arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of being behind a DDos attack (distributed denial of service) on Cablenet which rendered their telephony and internet services useless for around 12 hours.
Bail was paid for Epiphaniou’s release, but he was soon incarcerated again after the US filed an extradition order in January 2018, claiming that the FBI suspected him of being behind three cases involving hacking offences allegedly committed between 2014 and 2016, when he was between the ages of 15 and 17.
Epiphaniou is accused of allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from at least five US firms when he was still a minor by illegally accessing their internal systems and by blackmailing them with data leak threats.
He allegedly caused more than $550,000 in losses to the victim websites, according to US legal documents.
Some €69,000 in cash was found in his home. A gifted student who taught himself his computer skills, Epiphaniou is from a poor family. He was forced to drop out of school for a year before graduation because his family couldn’t afford the tuition for his private education.
Epiphaniou Asperger’s featured heavily in his defence, a condition that heavily impacts his life and his relationship with the outside world, according to his psychiatrist Dr Elias Nicolaides.
“If Epiphaniou is sent to a US prison, his health is likely to deteriorate to such an extent that he may possibly attempt to take his own life,” he told the Sunday Mail in a previous interview.
“His reactions are not normal. All his actions and the way he communicates make it quite clear that his is an impeding illness, even if you’re not a doctor,” said Chambers.
“I believe the judge did not give much weight to the medical reports the experts provided her with, due to the fact that she only saw Joshua on three or four occasions.
“She was just not convinced of his report and did not believe Joshua is suffering from a serious medical condition. That is why we will appeal the decision to extradite him.”
Vivina Epiphaniou says her son does not deserve his harsh treatment.
“I talk to him every day. He knows he has done wrong, he knows of the damages he has caused, he realises all that,” said the supermarket worker.
“However, I don’t think he deserves the harsh treatment. He is very scared.”
Chambers echoed her worries.
“He’s been in custody for the past two years. Mostly he wants everything to be over and done with, but he does not realise the risks he is facing if extradited,” he said.
Chambers also said his extradition would legally constitute inhumane treatment, as his condition would make his time in a US prison extremely tough to face.
“It’s going to be extremely hard for him to serve time in a federal US prison. And most importantly, it goes against his human rights, that’s why we brought a legal expert on human rights (UCY associate professor in international and human rights law Aristotelis Constantinides) to testify in his case.”
He explained that Joshua was a minor when any crimes were committed and were committed from his bedroom in Cyprus.
“He never could have conceived of the fact that he could have been extradited to another country that he’s never travelled to before,” the lawyer said.
“The US are defiant in their decision to imprison him over there, this is clearly a violation of Joshua’s human rights.”
As often happens, particularly in the US, his self-acquired hacking skills could potentially be extremely useful, as some of the world’s top cybersecurity agency currently pay millions to hackers for their abilities to find and repair eventual breaches in their systems.
Chambers said Epiphaniou’s skills could be certainly put to good use as well.
“My opinion is that this is not the right way to punish a person like Joshua and certainly not the right way to rehabilitate him.
“I think he’s learned his lesson already and someone should put that mind to good use instead of destroying it completely, by sentencing him to up to 20 years behind bars.”