A Ukrainian man wanted for over a decade by the FBI for a multimillion-dollar hacking scheme has been arrested in Switzerland and is awaiting extradition to the US, Swiss authorities confirmed to CNN Wednesday.
Vyacheslav Penchukov, known as “Tank” online, is accused of being a major player in a racketeering ring that allegedly drained millions of dollars from the bank accounts of Americans and other nationalities in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Penchukov was arrested in the canton of Geneva, Switzerland on October 23, and Swiss authorities “decided to grant” his extradition to the US on Tuesday, Raphael Frei, a spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police, said in an email.
It’s a prime example of how the FBI pursues high-value alleged cybercriminals years after their indictment with the help of allied countries. It comes as US law enforcement officials continue to monitor how the war in Ukraine might open up opportunities to nab alleged cybercriminals fleeing the conflict.
The racketeering scheme allegedly involved hacking into computers to steal victims’ bank account login information and then enlisting people living in the US with wiring the money overseas. The lucrative scheme set off an international manhunt that began with FBI agents traveling to Ukraine in search of the men more than a decade ago.
Penchukov can appeal the extradition decision in Swiss court, Frei said. It was unclear if Penchukov had an attorney representing him in Switzerland. The US Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.
Independent journalist Brian Krebs first reported Penchukov’s arrest in Switzerland.
Penchukov is wanted in federal court in Nebraska, where at least two of other Ukrainian men he allegedly collaborated with have been prosecuted. US prosecutors accuse Penchukov of computer and bank fraud, identity theft and racketeering.
Alex Holden, a Ukraine-born cybersecurity analyst who tracked Penchukov online, said some of Penchukov’s recent associates were spooked by his arrest.
“We lost visibility of him on the same day he was arrested, and his associates noted his arrest shortly after,” said Holden, founder of IT security firm Hold Security. “They are scared, giving another victory for the justice system which removes a delusion of safety for notorious cybercriminals and their associates.”
The US departments of state and justice invest heavily into helping foreign governments apprehend and extradite wanted hackers through training programs. FBI agents visited as Ukraine as early as 2010 as part of their investigation into Penchukov and his alleged associates, MIT Technology Review previously reported.
While Kyiv and Washington have worked closely on some counter-cybercrime issues, some accused cybercriminals have found refuge in Ukraine.
Penchukov’s recent trip to Switzerland appears to have opened a window for US law enforcement.