Moscow accused Washington on Tuesday of abducting the son of a Russian lawmaker who was arrested in the Maldives on suspicion of being one of the world’s most prolific traffickers of stolen credit card details.
A Russian legislator who admitted to being the suspect’s father expressed fear that Roman Seleznev, who is now being held in the American territory of Guam, will be accused of all sorts of sins including “killing Kennedy.”
The case further piqued Russian anger amid a bitter tug of war with Washington over the fate of ex-Soviet Ukraine.
The US Justice Department said on Monday that Seleznev, 30, was detained at the weekend and charged with hacking into US retail computer systems in a scheme that cost banks over US$1.1 million in losses.
He faces up to 30 years in prison but it was not immediately clear how he ended up in Guam.
A US law enforcement source confirmed the suspect is the Russian MP’s son.
Russian lawmaker Valery Seleznev accused Washington of committing a crime against his son and said there was no evidence he was a hacker.
“This is the abduction of a Russian national. It has nothing to do with [his] arrest,” the lawmaker with the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party told the Dozhd television channel.
The State Department dismissed the abduction accusations.
“There were accusations made. It’s a Department of Justice case. Certainly there was no kidnapping involved,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Seleznev said his son could not have been a criminal because he was injured in a terrorist act in Morocco in 2011 and was now disabled.
According to US officials, the suspect, who is charged with installing malicious software to steal credit card numbers, operated the scheme between October 2009 and February 2011.
He and his partners stole over 200,000 credit card numbers, according to US officials.
Valery Seleznev said that before 2011 his son worked for companies that had no connection to IT.
“I fear that now he will be put under so much pressure as if he killed Kennedy and even was Monica Lewinsky,” Valery Seleznev told the state news agency ITAR-TASS.
“We all know what justice in the United States is all about,” he said, noting that if his son was guilty he should be tried in a Russian court.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Seleznev’s detention in Male, the capital of the Maldives, was a “hostile step”, adding that Russian diplomatic missions had not been notified of his arrest.
“It is not the first time that the US side resorts to the de-facto abduction of a Russian national ignoring the bilateral 1999 treaty on mutual legal assistance,” the foreign ministry said.
It referred to a number of cases including the arrest of Viktor Bout, convicted of arms trafficking by a US court.
The ministry added it expected Washington to provide Moscow with an “intelligible explanation of what has happened” and allow access to Seleznev.
The State Department’s Psaki signalled that diplomatic access would be standard procedure in Guam.
“I believe that certainly a US territory would abide by the same consular access obligations” as US states, she said.
Moscow also demanded that the Maldives government provide an explanation of their role.
“The position of the Maldivian authorities who despite existing international legal norms allowed the security service of another state to abduct a Russian national and take him outside the country cannot but cause indignation,” the ministry added.
The Kremlin-linked Public Chamber accused the US of “banditry and lawlessness,” while the foreign ministry’s rights envoy, Konstantin Dolgov, said Russia will seek Seleznev’s extradition.
“Unfortunately, there is now a veritable hunt after Russian nationals,” he said on radio.
If convicted, the Russian could face up to 30 years in prison on bank fraud charges and additional jail time for the other charges, as well as hefty fines.
He faces a separate criminal indictment in Nevada on racketeering charges.
In April, US officials said nine people including a Russian and three Ukrainians were charged in a scheme that stole millions of dollars by hacking into online bank accounts.