SEATTLE – A Russian man charged with hacking into U.S. businesses testified Friday that he thought he was being kidnapped when three federal agents put him in handcuffs at a Maldives airport last year and led him from the building.
A former Maldivian prosecutor and expert on the country’s laws testified later in the day that the arrest of Roman Seleznev by U.S. agents was conducted in an unlawful manner and violated the country’s constitution. Hussian Shameem also said the Seleznev’s rights were violated when they did not offer a lawyer and searched his luggage without a warrant.
Seleznev, who spoke through an interpreter in federal court, said one of the agents shoved him into a room and forced him onto a couch before telling him he was under arrest. The son of a Russian Parliament member said he asked to see a lawyer and call the Russian embassy, but the agents refused.
They searched his luggage without permission and refused to tell him where he was going, he said. When they covered his handcuffs with a T-shirt before walking him to a chartered airplane, “it looked very strange to me,” Seleznev said.
“I thought that really they were kidnapping me,” he said.
Three agents with the U.S. Secret Service and State Department told a different story in testimony over the past two days. They said Maldivian police took Seleznev into custody because U.S. officials had no authority to arrest someone in the island nation in the Indian Ocean.
The agents said they calmly told Seleznev about the indictment before leading him to a airplane that would take him to Guam and then on to Seattle. They said they covered his restraints with a T-shirt so they wouldn’t draw attention walking through the airport.
The agents also said that Seleznev never asked for a lawyer or the Russian consulate. The defendant accused them of lying.
Federal prosecutors say Seleznev hacked into the computer systems of American restaurants and other businesses and stole about 2 million credit card numbers that he later sold on a private website. He made millions from his illegal operations and was living an extravagant lifestyle before his arrest, authorities said.
Seleznev’s lawyers have asked the judge to dismiss the 40-count indictment. They claim the agents’ actions amounted to “outrageous government misconduct” because they violated Maldivian law. Russian authorities condemned the arrest as an illegal kidnapping. Khalit Aisin, the deputy counsel general for the Russian Federation in Seattle, said he is attending the hearing as an observer.
The agents have testified that the operation received approval from government officials in both countries and Maldivian police assisted them.
Secret Service Special Agent David Iacovetti said on the stand Friday that local police approached Seleznev at the airport and told him that he would be expelled from the country based on an Interpol “red notice,” which is similar to an arrest warrant.
After that, the U.S. agents took over and put him on a chartered plane, Iacovetti said. They read Seleznev his Miranda rights once the plane took off and let him call his father after they landed, he said.
Shameem, the Maldivian legal expert, said the police and agents failed to follow the country’s laws and constitution.
A person in the Maldives can only be arrested under one of three circumstances: the person is seen committing a crime, is seen fleeing a crime or if police have a court warrant for the arrest, Shameem said, adding that’s the case for anyone in the Maldives, citizen or not.
Because the Maldivian police who helped U.S. agents detain Seleznev did not get a warrant or take him before a judge, the arrest was unlawful, he said. An Interpol red notice does not count as a local court warrant, he said, but is instead used to secure a local warrant. Once a judge decides whether the charges are legitimate, the person can be detained.
In addition to securing an arrest and search warrant, the person must be informed of his right to remain silent and to an attorney, he said. Seleznev was not told of any of his rights, he testified.
Seleznev said the Maldivian police never spoke to him. Instead, an agent told him he was under arrest, and “he was shaking this paper saying he had this indictment, and I didn’t understand anything,” Seleznev said.
At the same time, he said his girlfriend and her daughter were held in a nearby room, and when she tried to get out, “they restrained her forcibly.”
“They told her she could not leave the room, call anyone or speak with me,” he said.
Seleznev’s lawyer, Angelo Calfo, asked his client if he agreed to get on the plane with the agents. “I was told I had no choice,” he said.
Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle .