Russian officials on Tuesday accused the United States of kidnapping the 30-year-old son of a Moscow lawmaker after detaining him in the Maldives and flying him to Guam to face charges of trafficking in stolen credit card information.
Russian officials and news media denounced the handling of Roman Seleznev's arrest by the U.S. Secret Service as an illegal act of "extraordinary rendition," and the detainee's father speculated that Washington seized his son on bogus charges to have someone to trade for Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, is wanted by the U.S. on charges of leaking millions of classified files.
"We consider this as the latest unfriendly move from Washington," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement demanding "coherent explanations about the incident."
The ministry recalled two previous incidents involving wanted Russian businessmen Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko in observing that the Seleznev detention abroad was "not the first time that the U.S. government, ignoring a bilateral agreement on mutual legal cooperation regarding criminal issues, has conducted a literal kidnapping of a Russian citizen."
Bout and Yaroshenko are serving long prison sentences in the United States on respective convictions for illegal weapons and drug trafficking. Russian extradition requests have been denied, as have U.S. appeals to Moscow to send Snowden back to face justice for leaking sensitive government secrets.
Snowden, 31, has been living in Russia since fleeing there 14 months ago after disclosing what he considers excessive and illegal NSA spying on millions of private citizens' phone calls, emails and other personal communications.
Snowden has said in recent interviews from his undisclosed refuge near Moscow that he would like to return to the United States if he could get a fair trial on felony charges of espionage and theft. The U.S. government case against him could lead to a death penalty if convicted, although Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has said the U.S. government wouldn't seek the ultimate punishment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last year authorized Snowden to stay in Russia with temporary asylum status for a year beginning Aug. 1. Snowden may apply for annual extentions, the Kremlin said at the time.
The Snowden case has been a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations. Moscow and Washington have been deeply divided since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term two years ago and clamped down on human rights advocates, political opposition parties and U.S. adoption of Russian orphans, and this year sent troops to Ukraine to seize the Crimean peninsula.
Seleznev's father, Valery Seleznev, a member of the Duma lower house of parliament, accused Washington of engaging in the practice of extraordinary rendition, used by CIA operatives to nab terrorism suspects from foreign countries and spirit them to secret detention and military tribunals.
"For all I know, they may be demanding a ransom tomorrow," Valery Seleznev told Russia Today television about his son's detention. "Or they may try to exchange him for Snowden or somebody. One can only wonder."
Roman Seleznev was arrested Saturday at the international airport in Male, the Maldives capital, as he was about to board a plane for Moscow. He was put on a flight to Guam, a U.S. territory 4,900 miles east of the Indian Ocean island nation. He is imprisoned in Guam awaiting a court hearing and eventual transfer to Washington state, where the federal charges were filed against him.
Seleznev faces 29 charges of computer fraud, aggravated identity theft and possession of unauthorized cyber-snooping devices used for "hacking into point-of-sale systems at retailers throughout the United States," a statement by the U.S. Secret Service alleges.
The Secret Service called Seleznev "one of the world's most prolific traffickers of stolen financial information," saying that he and his cyber-theft ring are accused of stealing the data for more than 100,000 credit card accounts by hacking into retailers' computers between 2009 and 2011. Seleznev also faces racketeering charges in Nevada.
"The adverse impact this individual and other transnational organized criminal groups have on our nation's financial infrastructure is significant and should not be underestimated," said Secret Service Director Julia Preston in disclosing the arrest and relocation of Seleznev to Guam.