Hacker Guccifer, who exposed Clinton private email server, ready for US prison sentence

Hacker was released on parole from Romanian prison this week and is now eligible for a second US extradition to serve 52 months in a US prison on a 2016 sentence.
Written by Catalin Cimpanu, Contributor

Marcel Lazăr Lehel, aka Guccifer

Image: Symantec

Guccifer, the Romanian hacker whose shenanigans exposed the existence of Hillary Clinton's private email server, has been released this week from a Romanian prison and can now be extradited to the US to serve a 52-month prison sentence for hacking multiple US government officials between 2012 and 2014.

The 46-year-old hacker, real name Marcel Lazăr Lehel, was set free this week after a Romanian court approved his release on parole.

Lehel had been serving a seven-year prison sentence handed down by Romanian authorities after he hacked the email accounts of Romanian starlets (initially suspended three-year prison sentence handed down in 2011) and Romanian government officials (four-year prison sentence handed down in 2014).

In 2016, two years after he received his second prison sentence in Romania, Lehel was extradited to the US to face charges for hacking multiple current and former US government officials.

Noticeable victims included former Secretary of State Colin Powell as well as former President George W. Bush. Lehel would often leak the content of hacked email accounts in attempts to embarrass the victims. He's infamous for releasing a self-portrait President Bush painted of himself in a bathtub.

But while not the most high-profile intrusion, the hack with the most wide-reaching effects happened in March 2013, when he gained access to the email account of Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to former president Bill Clinton.

Lehel released email conversations from Blumenthal's account, including private memos Blumenthal sent to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many memos revealed behind-the-scenes information regarding the Libyan crisis and Al-Qaeda and September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on a US embassy in Benghazi.

The leaked memos revealed the existence of a private email server operated by the Clinton family at clintonemail.com, which Hillary Clinton had used for official government communications. A political whirlwind followed this revelation, and the Clinton private email scandal ended up damaging Hillary Clinton's upcoming 2016 US presidential campaign, many arguing it was one of the main reasons she lost to Donald Trump.

Lehel was sentenced for the above hacks of US officials to 52 months in a US prison in September 2016. But as part of the extradition accord signed with Romanian authorities, Lehel was sent back to Romania to finish the rest of his Romanian prison sentence.

In both 2017 and 2018, Lehel expressed his desire to serve the US sentence in a Romanian jail and filed a legal case to prevent his second extradition to the US.

In September 2018, an appeals court in Alba Iulia, Romania, ruled in favor of his second extradition. The court ruled for Lehel's immediate extradition either when he finished his seven-year sentence, or whenever he'd be released on parole.

After being set free this week, Lehel is now eligible for the second extradition.

Spokespersons for the Romanian Ministry of Justice and the Alba Iulia Appeals Court did not respond to a request for comment on the exact date of Lehel's second extradition.

Lehel's infamous hacking spree lasted from 2010 to early 2014 and included over 100 victims across Romania and the US. Lehel wasn't a trained IT professional, working as a taxi driver at the time of his arrest.

Lehel's nickname of Guccifer was the inspiration for Guccifer 2.0, a codename used by a Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) operative to spread stolen documents obtained from hacking the Democratic National Committee server in 2016.

Ironically, Guccifer 2.0 tried to pass as a Romanian hacker, while initial forensic data pegged Guccifer as Russian based on IP addresses found in the logs of hacked email accounts.

US authorities charged 12 Russian nationals this summer for the DNC hacks and for operating the Guccifer 2.0 hacker persona.

Updated on November 12: A spokesperson for the Alba Iulia Appeals Court has replied to ZDNet's request for comment and confirmed that Lehel has been handed over to Europol for extradition to the US on November 2. He's expected to start his US prison sentence this week.

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