Russia Claims Alleged Hacker Was 'Kidnapped' by US 'Agents'
MOSCOW - Russia is accusing "American Secret Service agents" of "kidnapping" an Russian man accused of hacking into computer systems in the United States in order to steal credit card data.
Roman Seleznev was arrested over the weekend in Guam, according to federal prosecutors, and will be tried in Seattle. In announcing his arrest, the U.S. Secret Service called Seleznev "one of the world's most prolific traffickers of stolen financial information," alleging he is responsible for compromising thousands of credit cards through cyber attacks between 2009 and 2011.
But Russian authorities claim that Seleznev was taken to Guam against his will. They say he was returning to Moscow from a vacation the Maldives when he was "forcibly put on a plane of a private airline company by the American Secret Services and taken to Guam," according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.
"We view this as another unfriendly act by Washington," the Russian statement continued, likening the case to other "kidnappings" involving Russian citizens who were detained in third countries and then extradited to the United States.
The ministry also reiterated its warning to Russian citizens who may be wanted by the United States to be careful when traveling abroad because they risk extradition. The ministry says Seleznev's arrest violates a 1999 agreement on mutual assistance in criminal cases.
"Seleznev was arrested by another country at the request of the U.S. and was taken into U.S. custody following his expulsion from that country, which acted under its own laws," a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice told ABC News today in a statement. "He was advised of his rights and given consular notification. These actions also were in no way inconsistent with any treaty arrangements with Russia."
The U.S. Secret Service did not respond to a request by ABC News for comment.
According to Russian media, the suspect's father is Valery Seleznyov, a member of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament. He told RT, the Kremlin's foreign-language propaganda network, that he feared the United States was holding his son as trade bait to swap for Edward Snowden, the American intelligence leaker who received asylum in Russia last year.
"For all I know they may be demanding a ransom tomorrow. Or try to exchange him for Snowden or somebody. One can only wonder," the father said.
Seleznev was indicted in 2011 for allegedly hacking into point-of-sale systems, mainly at small restaurants and entertainment venues across the country, to steal credit card information and sell it online.
His alleged targets included Broadway Grill, a Seattle restaurant forced to close after tens of thousands of customer credit cards were exposed. Seleznev is believed responsible for infecting computer systems with malware, siphoning credit card data and then selling that data on the black market under the name "Track2." The alleged scheme generated millions of dollars in illicit profits and was the precursor to similar, larger sized attacks in subsequent years like Target and Neiman Marcus, according to authorities.
The Secret Service would not say whether Seleznev was a suspect in those. In addition to the Seattle restaurant, Seleznev allegedly hit "hundreds" of small businesses, including a Schlotzky's Deli in Idaho, a jewelry store in Maine, the Phoenix Zoo, a pizza place in Sonoma and convenience stores in Evanston and Chicago.
He has been charged in Washington state with five counts of bank fraud, eight counts of intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, eight counts of obtaining information form a protected computer, one count of possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices, two counts of trafficking unauthorized access devices, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.
He has also been separately indicted in Nevada for racketeering as well as two more counts of possessing possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices. If convicted there he could face up to 20 years in prison for the first charge and up to 10 years for each of the latter charges.