SEATTLE (AP) — Lawyers for a Russian man charged with hacking into U.S. businesses to steal credit card information said Thursday that the U.S. agents who arrested him at a Maldives airport last year failed to follow that country's laws and his indictment should be dismissed.
U.S. Secret Service and State Department agents who took Roman Seleznev into custody "turned a blind eye" to Maldivian law, which states that "if Mr. Seleznev is arrested, he needs to go in front of a judge," attorney Angelo Calfo told a federal judge on the first day of a two-day hearing.
Instead of bringing Seleznev to a local court, the agents handcuffed him and put him on a chartered airplane that brought him to Guam and then to Seattle, Calfo said.
The agents who helped arrest Seleznev just before he boarded a plane to Russia testified that the operation received approval from government officials in both countries. Seleznev is the son of Valery Seleznev, a Russian Parliament member, and Russian authorities condemned the arrest as an illegal kidnapping.
Federal prosecutors say Seleznev hacked into the computer systems of American restaurants and businesses and stole about 2 million credit card numbers that he later sold on a private website. Seleznev made millions from his illegal operations and was living an extravagant lifestyle before his arrest, authorities said.
The Maldivian police agreed to help capture a man who the U.S. considered a "high-value target," Secret Service Special Agent Daniel Schwandner testified.
"They said the decision was made at the highest level of the Maldivian government — all the way up to the office of the president," he said.
The local police were in charge of Seleznev's capture, Schwandner said. U.S. agents only took custody of him after the officers gave their approval, he said.
The agents' testimony proves that the operation was legal and Seleznev's 40-count indictment should remain intact and his case should go to trial in May 2016, prosecutors said.
Dennis Lashinsky, a Sri Lanka-based security officer with the U.S. State Department, testified that he oversaw the communications the agents had with Maldivian authorities. After the agents got approval from the head of the police force, they went into action, he said.
The operation stalled after Maldivian officials demanded additional documents, Lashinsky said.
State Department Special Agent Mark Smith testified late in the day that one of the Maldivian officials demanded an Interpol "red notice" — basically an international arrest warrant — late in the operation and Smith sent an email alerting his teammates.
Smith assured the agents that they would be able to produce the document but said he was concerned about the timing because he didn't want Seleznev's "home country" to interfere.
If the "wrong people" got wind of the operation they might take measures to stop it, Smith said.
"We were concerned that since his father was an influential Russian politician, they might take diplomatic measures or otherwise that would impede the operation on the ground," Smith said. "If he knew there was a red notice for his son, he might take measures to get him, fly in to get him."
Calfo argued that the problems with the arrest stretched beyond the paperwork. Agents disregarded the required court appearance in order to get Seleznev on the airplane quickly, the attorney said. Their actions amounted to "outrageous government misconduct" so Seleznev should be released, he said.
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