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The US Is Trying to Extradite a Notorious Dark Web Admin This Week

The FBI says Eric Eoin Marques is the “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet," and wants to prosecute him in the US where he could face 100 years in jail.

Graham Templeton

Image: nebojsa mladjenovic/Flickr

In July of 2013, Eric Eoin Marques, a US-born Irish citizen living in Dublin, was arrested—accused by the FBI of being "the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet."

At the time of its takedown by the FBI, Marques' anonymous Tor hosting service Freedom Hosting was home to myriad websites featuring highly graphic and violent images of children. Marques was arrested on charges of advertising and distributing of child pornography, and soon stated publicly that he would plead guilty on all charges.

However, he has not yet been given the chance to do so.

On Monday, May 11, an extradition hearing will begin in Dublin (Update: According to Raidió Teilifís Éireann, the hearing has been delayed pending the evaluation of new evidence regarding Marques' apparent diagnosis of Asperger syndrome). The hearing will decide whether Marques will face a maximum 14-year sentence in Ireland, or a maximum 100-year sentence in America.

Marques' counsel told Motherboard that Irish law restrains barristers on either side of the case from commenting in the media. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

Marques' lawyers have previously expressed their intention to make a submission under Section 15 of of Ireland's Extradition Act, which says that Irish citizens may not be extradited for crimes committed in Ireland.

Though state prosecutor Patrick McGrath had no objection to trying Marques, the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute the case in Ireland. This avoids a conflict with the Irish Extradition Act, which says that Irish citizens may not be extradited for offences already pending in Ireland, paving the way for his extradition.

The government has previously denied requests for a review of this decision, stating that while "it is true that as a direct consequence of the decision not to prosecute him in this jurisdiction the [extradition request] will now be considered. However, it means no more than that. It is by no means certain that he will ultimately be extradited. That remains to be determined in a process in which he enjoys the right to challenge his extradition."

Marques was eventually granted a review of the decision not to try him in Ireland, largely on the basis of a recent Supreme Court ruling granting a similar review to suspected terrorist facilitator Ali Charaf Damache.

This review only succeeded in delaying his extradition hearing until the current date, May 11.

The recent case of Sean Garland, however, couldserve as a precedent for the extradition itself, as the US was recently denied a request to have him extradited to face federal charges. Though Garland is accused of making and circulating large quantities of counterfeit US bills, he was kept in Ireland on the grounds that while these offenses affected America and American interests, they were still committed on Irish soil.

Marques resided in Dublin while he ran Freedom Hosting, but the more than 550 servers themselves were scattered around as-yet-undisclosed European locations. It's possible that some of these servers were hosted on US soil—and if so, this will likely be raised at the hearing on Monday. As with the case of Sean Garland, though, this would not necessarily mean that the US is entitled to try the case.

Marques' solicitor submitted a letter to the Irish court, in which she argued that the crime should be under Irish jurisdiction. The letter says that the only US aspect to the crime is the "viewing of the contents of the websites which was [sic] observed by undercover agents in Maryland, USA. That could be said of any country in the world where a person had internet access."

When the request for extradition was first considered, an FBI special agent appeared before the court to testify that Marques is accused of being one of the most vile perpetrators on the planet, and that the US could subject him to a much longer possible sentence.

According to the Irish Times, Marques was denied bail in August 2013 on the basis that he was a flight risk—in part because his Google search history included research into Russian passports.

Though the FBI has yet to disclose the details of exactly how it found Marques, we do know that he was the target of several new FBI techniques and/or technologies designed to break the privacy and security measures of anonymity networks such as Tor. The FBI also admitted to keeping his servers running for some time, distributing malware aimed at identifying Freedom Hosting's customers and visitors.

Wherever the case is tried, a recent ruling on the state of the Marques extradition hearing makes it clear the authorities have evidence directly linking Marques to child pornography. Though Freedom Hosting's encryption scheme could have theoretically allowed him to insulate himself from knowing how his customers used his servers, according to Justice Edwards, Irish police have chat logs indicating that Marques "was well aware of the fact that the Target Server and [Freedom Hosting] hosted child pornography."