Parents of accused Yahoo hacker Karim Baratov vow to watch him 24/7
Why is this man smiling?
Wanted by the FBI, vilified as a cybercriminal hired by Russian spies and facing 20 years in a U.S. prison if convicted, Karim Baratov is oddly chipper after hearing he’ll spend another weekend in jail before learning if he can get out on bail.
The 22-year-old smiles at his friends in the front row of the courtroom. One is wearing ripped designer jeans patched with Louis Vuitton leather; the other has a Gucci belt. As for Baratov, his black hair is gelled to the side, oddly emphasizing the squareness of his head, and he wears glasses, a trim grey sports jacket and black V-neck T-shirt. He could be dressed to go out to a club — except for the shackles around his ankles and the jail-issue laceless shoes.
His Instagram days of fast cars and wads of cash are on hold for now.
Arrested March 14 at his Ancaster home, Baratov is wanted by the Americans for his alleged role in a massive breach of 500 million Yahoo user accounts along with three co-accused, including two men said to be Russian intelligence officers who masterminded the enterprise.
In court documents, Baratov is accused of hacking 80 accounts and handing over the login information to the Russians in exchange for payment to his various online accounts, including one that U.S. authorities claim had nearly $212,000 in deposits between 2013 and 2016. The Americans warn he’s a flight risk with “ties to foreign government officials.”
But his lawyers — including one that arrives to court in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce — insist he should be freed on house arrest with a GPS ankle bracelet and round-the-clock supervision by his mom and dad.
In an accent still tinged with his Kazakhstan birthplace, the whiz kid told the court he made his money creating websites and, ironically, protecting them from hackers. He incorporated his business in 2014 — he was all of 19 — and bought his own home at 20. He offhandedly detailed a revolving stable of drool-worthy luxury cars bearing his “Mr Karim” licence plate, including a Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Audi R8 — all purchased or financed, he said, with legally obtained funds.
He even paid income tax, he told the court, on $90,000 in earnings for “online services” in 2014 but less in the following years.
In contrast, his financially-strapped parents pledged their life savings — the $845,000 equity in their house — to have their son released on bail and vowed to watch him 24/7 — even though mom works full-time as a nurse and dad is a PhD who is a consultant for a livestock business in Kazakhstan.
To prevent his son going online, Akhmet Tokbergenov promised to cancel their Internet and store all computers and cellphones in a locked box by his bed.
“Trust me, I will create such conditions at home that maybe even jail will look like paradise.” And wait until his wife is home. “She’s even tougher than me.”
But momma was making sweet eyes at her baby-faced son. Dinara Tokbergenova, 47, said her boy isn’t the extravagant outlaw hacker-for-hire the media has portrayed.
“He is very intelligent, very attentive,” she explained. “He’s very professional with computers and he was making websites.”
Allegations that he’s involved in this massive conspiracy are shocking and concerning, she said, but she has faith in Canadian justice.
“We are Canadians, my son is Canadian, he was raised in Canada and he has hope in Canadian justice.”
In the meantime, she pledged to watch Baratov like she did when he was a little child and assured the court that he’ll abide by her rules.
“Our son will not disappoint us. He understands what we are going through.”
Crown asked if she realized he could face 20 years in a U.S. prison if extradited and convicted.
“I know, and that’s killing us,” she sighed. “My son did not kill anyone and he did not commit anything so terrible.”
She and her husband have also offered to pay for an electronic monitoring bracelet for their son. Just one problem. The company’s founder admitted there are no guarantees that it couldn’t be hacked.
The bail hearing continues April 11.
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