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Imprisoned Russian pedophile appears to be linked to hack of DNC computers

Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- A twice-convicted Russian pedophile imprisoned in a heavily forested gulag some 500 miles from Moscow appears to be the man a controversial dossier says helped hack into Democratic National Committee computers last year.

Sevastyan Kaptsugovich's name is misspelled in the dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy. But his history matches that of a computer expert described in the dossier who had been "compromised" by the Russian intelligence agency known as the FSB and forced into cooperating in the Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

The likelihood that Kaptsugovich is the man the dossier named as "Seva Kapsovich" answers one question about the findings of former spy Christopher Steele, whose compilation of connections between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and figures in Russia has been viewed with intrigue and skepticism. But it invites other questions in the widening probes into connections between Trump's campaign and Russia.

News organizations in possession of the dossier tried unsuccessfully for months to verify its contents. Law enforcement officials briefed then-President Barack Obama and Trump on the dossier in January, and it was part of the evidence the FBI used to win authority from a secret U.S. court to spy on Trump campaign members last year, according to multiple news reports.

McClatchy has confirmed some of its contents but had been unable to locate anyone with the name "Seva Kapsovich" who matched Steele's description in the dossier. Then McClatchy noted inconsistencies in the spellings of various names in the dossier. That prompted a search for alternate spellings of "Kapsovich" in Cyrillic, the alphabet of the Russian and other Slavic languages. That turned up references to Kaptsugovich and Russian media accounts of his prior convictions, which matched the description laid out in the dossier.

Kaptsugovich was first arrested on pedophilia charges in Russia in March 2001 and was sentenced in January 2004 to 11 years in Solikamsk prison, known in Russia as a tough lockup. The arrest came about the same time the United States and Russia announced a successful joint effort called Project Blue Orchid that smashed an international pedophilia ring.

The joint law enforcement effort was shocking because it involved pedophiles from the United States and elsewhere traveling to Russia to have sex with young boys who had been plucked from poor rural homes on promises of a better life in the city. Instead, they were sexually abused and images of the horrific acts sold across the globe.

Sevastyan Kaptsugovich, believed now to be at least 45, was released before his full sentence was completed. He made headlines again when he was convicted a second time, on Feb. 14, 2013, for similar crimes and sentenced to more than 18 years in a penal colony. Sordid details of his trial in the city of Perm were published in the media outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda, where one of the few public photos of him appeared. His legal documents do not appear in RosPravosudie, a website and database that boasts information on more than 100 million Russian legal cases.

Local newspapers at the time said Kaptsugovich was a history teacher and the son of Igor Kaptsugovich, a noted academic and former rector of the Perm Pedagogical University in the Urals region, more than 700 miles east of Moscow. Attempts to reach the father through the university were unsuccessful.

The 35-page dossier, which was published in full by BuzzFeed and contains a number of as-yet-unverified allegations, suggested that Kaptsugovich had been forced to cooperate with the FSB in hacking U.S. computer systems. It didn't reveal how he was involved, however.

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