Federal judge denies request to dismiss hacking charges

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2015 6:52 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected claims by a Russian man's lawyers that the federal agents who took him into custody in the Maldives violated local and U.S. law and refused to dismiss the charges against him.

U.S. District Judge Richard Jones said that appeals courts have ruled that the manner in which a person is brought to trial doesn't impact the court's ability to try him, with a few exceptions. Those exceptions include torture or outrageous misconduct, but neither was the case in last year's arrest of Roman Seleznev, Jones said.

Seleznev is accused of hacking into U.S. businesses and selling the information. He is scheduled to go to trial in May.

In denying the motion, Jones said nothing in the testimony or evidence presented during the two-day hearing suggested that the actions by U.S. Secret Service and State Department agents amounted to shocking and outrageous misconduct. Therefore, the 40-count indictment stands.

Jones also said Seleznev's testimony was "less than credible," while the agents' statements were supported by evidence, including a newspaper article that quoted the Maldivian president who said the arrest was legal and done with the consultation of the country's attorney general.

During closing arguments earlier Tuesday, Seleznev's lawyer, Andrea Ostrovsky said the agents' operation at the Maldives airport failed to follow local or U.S. law and amounted to an illegal kidnapping.

"Any agent should know you can't just grab someone and force him on an airplane without any due process at all," Ostrovsky said. "We believe this kind of behavior is outrageous and shocking and should not be sanctioned by this court."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Barbosa disagreed.

Barbosa said there was no evidence that supported the defense's claim that the agents were "running amok in a foreign nation." The agents worked with their counterparts in the Maldives and respected foreign authorities, he said. They did not engage in deceptive practices and the charges against Seleznev should remain intact, he said.

Seleznev, the son of a member of the Russian Parliament, is charged with making millions by hacking into U.S. businesses and then selling the credit card information he collected on a private website. Prosecutors have called him a "prolific computer hacker" who lived a lavish lifestyle before his capture while vacationing in the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Agents testified last week that they knew they had no authority to arrest a foreign national in a third country, so they secured the help of local police, who said the operation had the full support of the Maldivian government.

After the Maldivian police took Seleznev into custody, the agents said they took over and put him on a chartered airplane headed to the U.S. territory of Guam where he went before a U.S. District judge.

"The agents should be applauded for how they handled themselves in the Maldives," Barbosa said.

Seleznev's lawyers argued that the Maldivian police should have handled the arrest according to the country's laws. Those laws require an arrest warrant and appearance before a judge, but that didn't happen, Ostrovsky said.

Instead, the agents told Seleznev he was under arrest, handcuffed him and led him through the airport to their aircraft — all without a warrant, she said. They searched his bags and seized items without a warrant, she said.

They violated Seleznev's rights under the Maldivian constitution and failed to follow the country's laws, she said.

"It's not OK for U.S. agents to go to a foreign country and abduct someone," she said. "The agents kidnapped Mr. Seleznev" and made misrepresentations to cover up the alleged misdeeds, she said.

For those reasons, the court should throw out the indictment, she said.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle