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Trial date set for Kournikova suspect

The Dutch authorities schedule the trial for a police court, reducing the maximum sentence from four years to six months

The trial date for the man suspected of authoring the infamous Anna Kournikova email worm that infected thousands of PCs across the globe last February has been set for 12 September.

Authorities have scheduled the trial for a police court which means that if found guilty, Dutchman Jan de Witt of Sneek in the northern province of Friesland will face a maximum of six months in jail. Twenty-year-old de Witt, who is a self-proclaimed fan of Russian tennis star Kournikova, is charged with spreading information via a computer network with the intention of causing damage.

Early reports speculated that de Witt could face a four-year prison sentence, but Dutch authorities now say that the maximum sentence he could receive is either six months imprisonment or a fine of £27,000.

"Although the crime can carry a four year sentence under Dutch law, the suspect can only receive a maximum six month sentence because the case is scheduled to be heard in a police court," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for UK antivirus firm Sophos. "The suggestion is that the authorities don't feel the crime is serious enough to hear it at a higher court."

De Witt turned himself into the Dutch police in February, after seeing the damage the virus had caused. The Kournikova worm has been labelled the second largest virus ever to be released, with last year's Love Bug taking first place. Antivirus experts agree that the virus cost businesses millions of pounds worth of damage, overloading computer networks around the world.

Masquerading as a picture of the Russian tennis star, the Visual Basic virus tricked victims into double-clicking on it, which automatically forwarded it to all the email addresses in a target's address book. De Witt excused his actions by claiming that he created the virus to demonstrate the naivety of computer users, and did not intend to cause any harm.

Combatting global computer viruses is becoming the focus of international police forces. In Britain, the 1995 Smeg viruses created by the notorious Black Barron remain a shining example of legal justice issued for computer crime. The virus writer Christopher Pile received an 18-month prison sentence for his worm that displayed the message: "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast."

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