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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

US attorney: 2 Belarusians took in $1.35M from phishing scam

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Two men from the Eastern European country of Belarus have been charged with receiving $ 1.35 million stolen in an international phishing scheme from the bank account of a Pennsylvania oil and gas drilling company, federal authorities in Pittsburgh said Friday.

Aleskey Yaroshevich, 34, and Egor Pavlenko, 41, are in police custody in their hometown of Minsk, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said.

“As these arrests demonstrate, we will pursue participants in criminal organizations over borders and around the world to ensure they are held accountable,” Hickton said. Although the charges are related to a federal indictment obtained last year by Hickton’s office against Moldovan native Andrey Ghinkul, the two men are being prosecuted by authorities in Belarus.

The men are part of an “international criminal group” that tried to launder the money through fictitious companies in Belarus, China, Bangladesh and other countries, according to a news release from the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus.

The release neither specifies the charges filed against the men nor details the potential penalties they face. Hickton’s office declined to comment, and the FBI didn’t immediately respond when asked whether the men have attorneys.

Ghinkul was arrested in Cyprus last summer and was returned to the United States in March. He remains jailed awaiting trial on charges he led a group that infected computers around the world with Bugat malware.

The malware attacked computers of those who opened phishing emails. U.S. victims have lost at least $ 10 million, which the FBI considers a conservative estimate.

Ghinkul is being prosecuted by Hickton’s office because the drilling firm and its bank, as well as a school district in western Pennsylvania, were targeted. Worldwide, victims have lost at least $ 25 million.

The drilling firm, Penneco Oil Co. Inc. of Delmont, was hacked when an employee opened a phishing email. That enabled Ghinkul and others to track keystrokes on the company’s computers.

That information helped the hackers move nearly $ 2.2 million from a Penneco account to a bank in Krasnodar, Russia, in August 2012 and $ 1.35 million from a Penneco account to a bank in Minsk in September 2012 — the money Hickton said Yaroshevich and Pavlenko received. The company’s bank restored the stolen funds and is now considered a victim in the case.

“We are surprised and impressed that the feds have tracked down these criminals,” Ben Wallace, Penneco’s chief operating officer said Friday. “It’s encouraging to see that there will be a day of reckoning for their actions.”

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