Top German court blocks US extradition of Turk accused of masterminding online heist

BERLIN – A Turkish man accused of stealing almost $60 million in a series of hacking raids against credit card companies has won a legal victory, after Germany’s top court blocked his extradition to the United States.

Ercan Findikoglu was arrested at Frankfurt Airport in December 2013. U.S. authorities accuse him of masterminding a group that carried out the online heists between 2011 and 2013. The group allegedly hacked into the computer networks of payment processing companies to raise the limits on prepaid credit cards and withdraw large sums of money.

Judges at Germany’s Federal constitutional Court granted Findikoglu’s appeal against a lower court’s decision to permit his extradition.

Court officials provided The Associated Press with a copy of the Nov. 20 ruling, which was first reported Tuesday by German news website Spiegel Online.

In their ruling, the three judges criticized the Frankfurt’s regional court for failing to obtain assurances from U.S. authorities that the defendant won’t receive a disproportionate sentence if convicted.

Under German law, the maximum sentence for a property-related crime is 15 years imprisonment. According to the ruling, Findikoglu could face more than 247 years in prison if convicted in the United States.

“This would amount to a lifetime prison sentence,” the judges said, adding that this would be incompatible with German extradition law. German courts have in the past taken a similar view in cases where the death sentence is possible; capital punishment is banned in Germany.

Findikoglu’s lawyer, Oliver Wallasch, said he expects the regional court to quickly seek clarification on possible sentences from U.S. authorities, though their guidelines wouldn’t be binding on judges.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the decision.