Karim Baratov tells a story of financial success starting at a young age
Now he's accused of being part of sophisticated hacking operation
A few years before there was Karim Baratov, the guy who parked expensive cars in his driveway and posted sketches showing the very good life – complete with money bags, women and a swimming pool – there was Karim Baratov, the high school student who got into a little trouble.
Baratov, who has been indicted by a US grand jury in connection with a massive hack of Yahoo information, just last month wrote on Facebook that, while a teen, he managed to make lemonade out of lemons.
Baratov wrote he was suspended from high school for “threatening to kill my ex-friend as a joke.”
“At first, I felt really upset as I have never got into trouble before,” he wrote. “But the time off allowed me to work on my online projects 24/7, and really move(d) my business to the next level.”
Baratov’s social media showed a thrill seeker finding ways to entertain himself in the posh community of Ancaster, about an hour outside of Toronto.
The Kazakh native describes being able to afford a BMW 7 Series while still in high school and to pay off the mortgage on his first house.
“By the time my suspension was done, I changed my whole life plan!” wrote Baratov, now 22.
It’s unclear, though, the exact nature of Baratov’s online work.
Amedeo DiCarlo, a Toronto attorney, referred to his client as an “entrepreneur.” He wouldn’t elaborate on the kind of work Baratov did, or how he was able to afford his lavish lifestyle.
But federal prosecutors in Northern California have laid out how they believe the Canadian made at least some of his money. They say he was a hacker who worked with three other people – including two Russian intelligence officers – to get names, email addresses and passwords from at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. That allegedly helped them to gain access to accounts from other Internet companies, such as Google.
DiCarlo maintains his client is innocent.
A very public persona
Baratov’s Facebook and Instagram accounts have been made private since he was arrested by Canadian authorities on Wednesday. Postings on the accounts viewed before then show him posing with luxury cars, including an Aston Martin, in front of his home.
The house, worth an estimated USD $700,000, is now listed for sale. Neighbors say they believe he lived there alone.
His attorney concedes that Baratov “was not a secretive person – everything was open to the public.”
There are dozens of videos detailing Baratov’s love for luxury and adrenaline on his YouTube page.
One shows his cerulean Lamborghini Gallardo doing donuts on a snow-covered field at a park near his home. Other videos show point-of-view shots of him speeding his luxury cars through upscale neighborhoods.
’An attack by the US government’
Authorities argue the four defendants should forfeit certain belongings if they are convicted. The forfeiture allegations cite a black Mercedes and a gray Aston Martin that has a license tag reading “MR KARIM.”
The indictment, issued late last month, lists four charges against Baratov, including conspiring to commit computer fraud and abuse and aggravated identity theft. He appeared briefly in Canadian court on Friday. A bail hearing is scheduled for April 5.
US authorities claim the hack was initiated in January 2014.
Some of the stolen information was used to “obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, US and Russian government officials and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
Baratov was paid a bounty to access a target’s email account at other service providers, the indictment claims. He allegedly focused on Google accounts, including of a few officials within various parts of the Russian government.
DiCarlo said he is in a “political uphill battle” to keep Baratov from being extradited to the United States. Baratov has not been charged with any crimes in Canada.
“This is an attack by the US government. It’s a challenge by the US government,” DiCarlo told journalists after the hearing in Hamilton.
A search of domains registered to a Karim Baratov yields multiple sites, including one advertising “email hacking on demand.”
The domain registrations include an Ontario area code and an email address that features aliases Baratov allegedly used, according to the indictment: “Kay” and “Taloverov.”
DiCarlo would not directly respond to questions about those websites, saying only, “Everything you’ve heard up to now has been unfounded.”
Tossing dollars to trick-or-treaters
While Facebook and Instagram accounts show Baratov enjoying riches, accounts from friends and neighbors show he didn’t just flaunt wealth, but shared it.
One fellow auto enthusiast, who would go by only “Dillon,” owns an auto body shop called Autokloak that Baratov frequented. He calls Baratov “generous.”
“He is very polite, respected everybody, paid for a lot of people’s outings,” Dillon told CNN.
Silvia, who lives around the corner from Baratov and would not give her last name, said that last Halloween, her grandson had gone trick-or-treating with a group of friends to Baratov’s house. The young man answered the door and threw handfuls of American dollars at the children.
“He was throwing it on the street, ‘Take it, take it, get off my property, take it!’” Silvia, 66, said. “It was windy and money was flying. It was weird. Why would somebody give money out, like throwing money out?”
Other posts show Baratov out with friends. In one YouTube video posted to Baratov’s “Mr Karim” account in February 2016, Baratov is seen sitting at a restaurant table, telling a friend to record, as he grabs a knife from the table, nimbly stabbing it between the fingers spread out on his left hand.
“Is this a game that you’ve practiced?” the friend who is recording asks.
“No,” he responds.
They laugh as he finishes the feat without injury.
CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.