In March 2011, a 30-year-old Russian national, Roman Seleznev, was indicted in Seattle, Washington, on charges that include bank fraud, identity theft, and production, use, and trafficking in stolen means of identification as a member of a criminal organization.
On July 5, 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was finally able to seize Seleznev in the Maldives for the crimes he allegedly committed from 2009 to 2011. The Russian foreign ministry condemned the arrest as a “provocative act” and “de facto kidnapping” by the United States, which had ignored a bilateral treaty on mutual assistance in criminal matters between the two countries.
This is not the first time a Russian citizen has been “kidnapped” by U.S. authorities. In 2008, Victor Bout was arrested in Thailand for alleged arms smuggling and subsequently extradited to the United States and convicted of conspiracy and terrorism charges in 2011. In 2010, a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, was also “kidnapped” in Liberia for alleged drug smuggling.
Unlike these previous cases, Seleznev’s arrest comes at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the United States over Edward Snowden as well as conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine. The Seleznev incident may further escalate the situation.
The alleged hacker is the son of Valery Seleznev, an MP of the Russian State Duma and a member of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, is a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy. Concerned with his son’s health and convinced of his innocence, Seleznev Sr. has stated that the arrest may be an attempt by the United States to use Roman as a bargaining chip in the Snowden case.
Roman Seleznev was one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Marrakech, Morocco, in April 2011, which left him with a head injury and in need of constant medical care. Some conspiracy theorists have argued the terrorist attack was an assassination attempt, as it occurred one month after the hacker’s indictment in U.S. court.
The details of Seleznev’s arrest at the Ibrahim Nasir international airport in the Maldives are also obscure. The Maldivian Home Affairs Ministry has insisted that the capture followed due process requirements and included executing an Interpol red notice. Although the United States does not have an extradition treaty with the Maldives, Seleznev was transported on a charter flight to Guam.
The United States has long proven it will use extraordinary rendition and abduction tactics to capture terror suspects. But, Seleznev’s case is yet more proof that these tactics are also employed by the United States in fights with supposed criminal organizations.