Parents of alleged Yahoo hacker: 'Our son is a scapegoat'
The parents of an alleged "hacker-for-hire" connected to a massive international data breach maintain that their son is innocent, and a "scapegoat" in a case that is tearing them apart.
"It's like someone cut off our roots, and took out our hearts," said Akhmet Tokbergenov, the father of Karim Baratov, 22, who faces charges laid by the U.S. Justice Department related to computer hacking, economic espionage and several other offences.
Baratov was indicted by the FBI last month, and accused of being part of an international criminal conspiracy alongside a pair of Russian intelligence officers and a fourth man in the massive 2014 breach of information from former tech giant Yahoo.
On Wednesday, Baratov will appear in court for a bail hearing. His parents hope to act as his sureties.
On Monday, they met with reporters to speak about their son — under close watch from his lawyers, who cut off lines of questioning on several occasions.
His parents say the charges, and the picture of their son that they see painted in the media, don't seem consistent with the boy they raised.
"Everything was over-exaggerated," said his mother, Dinera Tokbergenova, from the family home in the affluent Hamilton suburb of Ancaster, minutes away from where her son was arrested.
"Our son is a scapegoat in this case."
How did Baratov make his money?
But questions remain about Baratov's background, how he made his money, and the opulent lifestyle that he presented online.
On various social media accounts, Baratov could be seen with expensive cars, including a Mercedes, Aston Martin and a Lamborghini. Neighbours in the area wondered how he could afford his cars, and also his home in Ancaster, which is one of the most upscale areas in Hamilton.
So what did Baratov do for a living, exactly?
"It's like a server business. Internet server … and I think building websites," his father said.
When pressed about what exactly that meant, and how many people his son employed, Baratov's lawyers stepped in and told the parents not to answer.
His parents said they co-signed on his Ancaster home, and that the house had a "huge mortgage." His car — an Aston Martin — was also bought with a loan, his parents say.
They called the second home "an investment."
"It's not a secret that housing prices [in the area] are going up," his father said.
Property registry documents show Baratov and his parents bought the home in 2015 for $642,000, and then sold it for $850,000 at the end of March.
Lawyer plans to seek bail
Baratov is currently in custody. His lawyers say he will fight a U.S. extradition request, but in the short term, want to get him out on bail, while the extradition case is argued.
His parents said they have visited him in jail, and that he's trying to "put a brave face" on for them.
Prosecutors contend that if bail is granted, Baratov could pose a significant flight risk.
When his parents were asked about that possibility, Baratov's lawyers once again stepped in and told them not to comment.
Baratov was born in Kazakhstan, which was part of the former Soviet Union.
His parents came to Canada 10 years ago, when their son was 12 and his sister was 17.
"We moved to another country to give our kids a better opportunity and life," his father said, citing "low levels of crime" as one of the appeals that Canada held.
His parents said that the picture of their son shown on social media doesn't really reflect on who he was as a person, even though he was the one who posted them.
"We don't recognize our son by media," his father said. "He's not that person at all."
"He's so kind, he's so quiet, he's so intelligent," his mother said. "He would take off his last T-shirt for his friends and family."
3 others also charged
Russian intelligence (FSB) agents Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, and Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43, also face charges in connection with the case.
Russian national Alexsey Alexseyevich Belan, also known as "Magg," 29, has also been indicted.
Belan, who had previously been indicted in 2012 and 2013, was named one of the FBI's most wanted cybercriminals in November 2013.
The charges arise from a compromise of Yahoo user accounts that began at least as early as 2014. Though the U.S. Justice Department has previously charged Russian hackers with cybercrime — as well as hackers sponsored by the Chinese and Iranian governments — this is the first criminal case brought against Russian government officials.
According to the department, the four are alleged to have hacked into Yahoo's systems and stolen information from more than 500 million user accounts.