The supreme court has upheld the decision by the Nicosia district court to deny the release from jail of a 20-year-old Cypriot man until the appeal for his extradition to the United States, where he is facing hacking charges, is heard next month.
If it goes ahead, Joshua Epiphaniou, who has been in jail in Cyprus for over two years, would be the first ever Cypriot to be extradited to the US, according to his lawyer.
Epiphaniou faces 20 years in prison in two US states – Georgia and Arizona – where he faces several charges including wire and computer fraud, identity theft and extortion, according to legal documents.
Following the original Nicosia district court ruling last November, Epiphaniou filed an appeal with the supreme court requesting his release under Habeas Corpus until the extradition appeal was heard.
This initial appeal was rejected on January 23 by judge Stelios Nathaniel.
According to Epiphaniou’s lawyer Michael Chambers the hearing into extradition appeal itself will be heard by the supreme court on February 17.
Epiphaniou’sextradition had been requested by the United States following a request made to Cyprus to hold a trial there for offences that form part of two indictments filed in Georgia and Arizona.
The first indictment was registered on September 19, 2017 and the second on September 27, 2017and both concern offences related to electronic fraud, accessing computer data, obtaining information from a protected computer and intentionally threatening and damaging a computer.
According to the US request, Epiphaniou along with others stole and extracted personal data from users of web-based databases in the United States and sent victims emails threatening to disclose the data, if they were not paid money. Both payments were made in digital currency, with the companies incurring losses of US $80,000 and US $450,000 respectively.
Epiphaniou was initially arrested in May 2017 on suspicion of being behind a DDos attack (distributed denial of service) on the telecommunications company Cablenet, which stopped their telephony and internet services working for about 12 hours.
Bail was posted for Epiphaniou’s release, but he was put behind bars once 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 Epiphaniou was still a minor.
He is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from at least five US firms by illegally accessing their internal systems and by blackmailing them with data leaks threats. He allegedly caused more than $550,000 in losses to the victim websites, according to US legal documents.
“He is the first Cypriot to be extradited to the US and the first Cypriot to be extradited since a change in the constitution in 2013, after Cyprus joined the EU,” his lawyer Michael Chambers told the Cyprus Mail in November.
Defence lawyers tried to block Epiphaniou’s extradition based on the fact that he was underaged at the time the alleged offences were committed and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.
“We argued that as he suffers from Asperger’s it would be against his human rights to be extradited and because of his age at the time, but the judge didn’t accept this,” said Chambers.
He presented medical evidence and expert witnesses before the court to prove Epiphaniou suffers from Asperger, which will cause his mental health to deteriorate if incarcerated in a US federal prison, but the judge was not convinced.
“There was testimony saying the sentence would harm Joshua’s human rights because of his age, he’s never been to the US, he has no family there and experts said he might have suicidal tendencies,” said the lawyer.
A gifted student, who taught himself his computer skills, he comes from a broken home with his Filipina mother finding it hard to make ends meet. He was forced to drop out of school for a year before graduation because his family couldn’t afford the tuition fees for his private education.