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Computer hackers

Russian hacker given 27-year jail sentence by US, then lawyer claims political persecution

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 April, 2017, 7:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 April, 2017, 7:05am

A federal judge on Friday handed down the longest sentence ever imposed in the US for a cybercrime case to the son of a member of the Russian Parliament convicted of hacking into more than 500 US businesses and stealing millions of credit card numbers, which he then sold on special websites.

Roman Seleznev was sentenced to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay nearly US$170 million in restitution to the business and banks that were the victims of his multi-year scheme.

Prior to his sentencing, Seleznev asked US District Judge Richard Jones for leniency. He apologised to his victims and said he was remorseful for his crimes, but he urged the judge to consider his medical problems, the result of being caught in a terrorist bombing in 2011, in deciding his prison term.

“I plead, pray and beg your honor for mercy,” he said.

But Jones told Seleznev that the bombing in Morroco “was an invitation to right your wrongs and recognise you were given a second chance in life.” But instead, Jones said Seleznev “amassed a fortune” at the expense of hundreds of small business.

“You were driven by one goal: greed,” Jones said.

After sentencing, Seleznev lawyer Igor Litvak read a hand-written statement from his client that said the long sentence was a political prosecution at a time of strained US-Russian relations.

“This decision made by the United States government clearly demonstrates to the entire world that I’m a political prisoner,” Seleznev wrote. “I was kidnapped by the US Now they want to send a message to the world using me as a pawn. This message that the US is sending today is not the right way to show Vladimar Putin of Russia, or any government in this world how justice works in a democracy.”

He said he’s a citizen of the Russian Federation and he said he wanted to send a message to that government: “Please help me. I beg you.”

US Attorney Annette Hayes said Seleznev’s statement was “troubling.” He told the judge that he accepted responsibility and then sent his lawyer out claiming the case was political, she said.

“He was treated with due process all along the way just as any US citizen would have been,” she said.

Seleznev was first indicted in 2011 on 29 felony charges and captured in 2014. US Secret Service agents, with the help of local police, arrested Seleznev in the Maldives as he and his girlfriend arrived at an airport on their way back to Russia. The agents flew him to Guam, where he made his first court appearance, and then to Seattle, where he was placed in federal custody.

The indictment grew to 40 counts in October 2014, and his trial was held last August. A jury found him guilty on 38 charges, including nine counts of hacking and 10 counts of wire fraud.

“This is truly an unprecedented prosecution,” Deputy US Attorney Norman Barbosa told the judge before sentencing.

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For 15 years, Seleznev broke into the payment systems of hundreds of businesses. He had more than 2.9 million unique credit card numbers in his possession when he was arrested. His thefts resulted in about US$170 million in business losses.

“That is a staggering amount,” Barbosa said. “It exceeds any loss amount this court has ever seen.”

Seleznev was “living like a mob boss” and spent money on fast cars, expensive boats and luxury trips around the world, he said.

Prosecutors asked for a 30-year sentence to send a message to hackers around the world.

“Never before has a criminal engaged in computer fraud of this magnitude been identified, captured and convicted by an American jury,” prosecutors told the judge in a presentence memo.

Litvak urged the judge to consider Seleznev’s life story in his decision.

Seleznev’s parents divorced when he was 2; his alcoholic mother died when he was 17; he suffered a severe head injury in a terrorist bombing in Morocco in 2011, causing his doctors to say he may not recover; and his wife divorced him while he was in a coma, Litvak told the judge.

Seleznev continues to suffer after-effects from the bombing, including seizures, Litvak said.

To prove his commitment to helping fight cybercrime, Seleznev recently arranged to give the US government four of his laptops and six flash drives, and he has met with officials to discuss hacker activities, Litvak said.

Prosecutors said his offer to help fight hackers came too late.