The Uppsala University PhD student who had been accused of multiple crimes, including selling ricin on the darknet, has started an acquittal process. There was only enough evidence to convict the 27-year-old with theft from the university—nothing more.
We wrote about the case in early November after the lead prosecutor spoke to the press regarding the case. He believed the doctoral student would be found guilty on all charges, including the attempt to threaten and extort representatives of the Czech Government.
He mailed a letter containing ricin to the Czech Republic after demanding millions in bitcoins. His defense was able to eradicate the extortion charges for two main reasons. The first is in regard to the actual letter’s contents; there was no ricin. Cyanogen bromide was inside the envelope instead, rendering the charge worthless, the defense argued during a hearing.
The second reason he was not found guilty on the extortion charge was based on law enforcement’s handling of the event. Packages were being sent from the man’s house continually; he sold ricin, cyanogen bromide, and chloroform on the darknet. Many packages arrived at their intended destinations but a significant number did not. The package he sent to the Czech Republic was one of those packages that police intercepted. Thus, the defense argued, the 27-year-old never sent a ricin filled extortion letter to the Czech Republic.
All chemicals sold by the 27-year-old were stolen from a lab at his university. After a coworker got suspicious, the university set up cameras, hidden, inside the lab. The cameras captured the suspect stealing chemicals and ultimately resulted in 12 individual counts of theft, all 12 of which he was expected to be found guilty on.
Those cameras were the same cameras police officers used to spy on the man while gathering evidence on the distribution crimes. In early 2016, the FBI alerted Swedish authorities of a vendor selling ricin on the darknet. Evidence linked the 27-year-old to the vendor account under the name “Larry Flow.”
Police set up undercover buys and communicated with “Larry Flow,” while watching his behavior and activity at his workstation. They were able to capture him booting into Tails and logging in to some website, but other than indistinguishable typing, the details were lacking. The cameras were set up to watch areas where chemicals were stored, not the man’s desk and computer.
The authorities intercepted several outgoing packages from the man’s address and, on one occasion, got him on camera mailing a darknet package. Those in the courtroom, including the judges and reporters, agreed that the videos of him logging into Tails were inconclusive, grainy, and even difficult to watch.
A connection between “Larry Flow,” and the PhD student was not proven to the courtroom. Courtroom reporters also noted that the entire courtroom had difficulty understanding the procedures behind the darknet.
Bengt-Göran Hugosson, the defendant’s lawyer, argued as if he was not involved in the case but merely watching it unfold. He said the videos were far too confusing to follow. The alleged times and dates between police messaging “Larry Flow” and the student booting into Tails were not viable pieces of evidence, he said.
Hugosson also made the same argument that he did regarding the extortion; if the police intercepted a package and it came from his client, then no true sale was made. His client, he said, was not charged with any conspiracy related crimes yet such crimes were all the prosecution had evidence for.
The defense ultimately went for the win in this case; the student was only charged with four counts of theft from the university. The darknet-distribution, extortion, and chemical weapon charges did not stick.
Hugosson and his 27-year-old client were not done showing their faces in the courtroom, a recent newspaper reported. They are seeking a full acquittal. The four theft charges, the paper said, are going to be disputed. The prosecution holds the previous stance on the matter but strongly opposes the acquittal and will be asking for a stricter prison sentence. Currently, if the four charges do not get dropped, he will serve a year in prison and expulsion from the country for five years.
Neither side—defense or prosecution—will present new evidence, meaning judges in the Court of Appeal will rely on the filming of the trial in Uppsala District Court.