One of the lawyers retained by alleged Yahoo hacker Karim Baratov says his Canadian client may be the victim of a "politically motivated attack."
Toronto police arrested Baratov on Tuesday morning at his home in Ancaster, Ont., a suburb of Hamilton. On Wednesday, he was indicted by the FBI, along with a pair of Russian intelligence officers and a fourth man who lives in the U.S., in the massive 2014 breach of former tech giant Yahoo.
"Donald Trump is trying to make it appear like he's going after Russian hackers, but he's going after a 22-year-old kid from Ancaster," Jag Virk, one of two lawyers representing Baratov, said in a phone interview Thursday morning. "He's being used as a scapegoat."
"My client maintains his innocence," Virk wrote in a separate email to CBC News. "We believe the charges against him may be politically motivated by the U.S. He is a 22 year old young man with no criminal record. Everyone should wait for the facts to come out before rushing to judgment."
Virk was retained by Baratov on Wednesday, joining criminal lawyer Amedeo DiCarlo on the case.
Baratov has a bail hearing scheduled Friday in a Hamilton court. He is being held in custody, and Virk said he could not say where, or by whom.
'It kind of just clicked right away'
On Monday, the last day he was seen, Baratov frequented a local Goodlife Fitness in Ancaster, where the 22-year-old is said to have gone nearly every day.
He seemed "normal," said a friend who went to high school with Baratov and asked not to be named — as normal as one with a suspicious amount of wealth and no shortage of luxury cars can be.
"Super friendly, a little odd, but came up to you every time and shook your hand," the friend said. There was little reason to think anything was amiss.
But when Baratov's friend saw news reports on the arrest, "It kind of just clicked right away," the friend said. "You're like, 'Well, that makes sense.'"
Late Wednesday evening, the friend said Baratov's arrest was the talk of the gym that day.
"Literally everybody I talked to was like, 'Well, I guess it caught up with him,' or 'That makes sense, I guess we knew where he got all the money for his cars,'" he said.
He described Baratov as a flashy but nerdy guy who used his money to buy both cars and friends — behaviour that dated back to their time at Ancaster High School.
"I had heard multiple times before this that he was a hacker," the friend said, recalling that Baratov would only ever say he ran an online website. "But to this extent, nobody would ever expect it."