Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Roman Seleznev: Criminal hacker or diplomatic bargaining chip?

Valery Seleznev, a prominent Russian lawmaker and the father of Roman Seleznev, insists that his son is not a hacker.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Overseas vacations have not been good for Roman Seleznev.

The son of a prominent Russian parliamentarian, Mr. Seleznev was visiting Morocco with his mother three years ago when a bomb blew up in a tourist café in the old quarters of Marrakesh, killing17 people and injuring him seriously.

Then, a week ago, Mr. Seleznev was holidaying with his girlfriend and his daughter in the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, when U.S. Secret Service agents grabbed him and flew him to the island of Guam, an American territory in the Pacific, to face 29 criminal charges.

Story continues below advertisement

The United States alleges that the 30-year-old Mr. Seleznev is a hacker who planted malicious software into the point-of-sale computers of several American retailers to steal information from more than 200,000 credit cards, then resold the data online.

The affair is now turning into a diplomatic row between the United States and Russia.

Mr. Seleznev's father, Valery, is a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's far-right Liberal Democratic Party.

In a press conference in Moscow Friday, the elder Mr. Seleznev said his son couldn't be a hacker because he knew "nothing about these new technologies" and had suffered brain damage from the Moroccan bomb attack.

He said his son would die soon without medical help, Agence France-Presse reported. "If he does not take it [medication] for three, five days at the most, then … he would die and die very soon," he said.

His son's girlfriend, Anna Otisko, told the press conference that the trip to the Maldives, which was a luxury for them, ended abruptly when unknown men took him away by force, The Associated Press reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Mr. Seleznev's arrest was a de facto kidnapping.

Story continues below advertisement

"We regard this as an unfriendly move by Washington," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a communiqué that stated that Mr. Seleznev was waiting for a flight to Moscow at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in the Maldives capital of Male on Sunday when U.S. agents bundled him into a private plane bound for Guam.

The communiqué compared Mr. Seleznev's predicament to the cases of two other Russian nationals, Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who were also intercepted in third countries and extradited to the United States to face criminal charges.

In a separate travel advisory, the ministry cautioned Russian citizens from travelling to countries that have extradition agreements with the United States if they suspect that American law enforcement has some claims against them.

The advisory also warned that the American justice system is biased against Russians, who usually end with long prison terms when tried in the United States.

According to documents filed at the Hagatna courthouse in Guam, Mr. Seleznev was formally put under arrest on the island in the early-morning hours of Sunday. The following day, he appeared in Guam district court with a Russian-language interpreter and was remanded into custody until a hearing July 22.

Prosecutors are seeking a court order to transfer him to Seattle.

Story continues below advertisement

Details about the American authorities' interest in Mr. Seleznev first emerged this spring in court documents that accuse him of criminal acts predating his bomb-inflicted brain injuries.

In April, a court in Nevada unsealed a 2012 indictment against 55 members of an alleged international cyber-crime ring called that operated principally out of Las Vegas and is accused of causing $50-million in fraudulent losses.

The Nevada indictment described Mr. Seleznev as one of's vendors of "dumps," data stolen from credit or debit cards, which were sold at $20 for each embezzled account.

"Seleznev sells such a large volume of product that he has created an automated website," the indictment says.

The website allowed members to log in, search for a particular type of stolen credit card, then add them to a shopping cart before paying through a system of digital currency, the court file said.

Separately, Mr. Seleznev was investigated by law enforcement in Washington state.

Unbeknown to him, a secret arrest warrant against him was filed in Seattle in March, 2011.

A sealed indictment in Seattle alleged that, between October, 2009, and February, 2011, he caused $1.2-million in losses after he hacked into the computers of a dozen restaurants, a jewellery store, an Imax theatre, a convenience store and a zoo in seven different states.

The indictment, which said Mr. Seleznev went by online nicknames such as Track2, nCuX, bandysli64 and shmak, rented servers in Russia, Ukraine and McLean, Va., as part of his scheme.

The stolen data are alleged to have been advertised and resold on carding forums, online sites where up to 140,000 stolen card numbers were peddled.

Mr. Seleznev earned at least $2-million from selling stolen cards between November, 2010, and February, 2011, the indictment said.

"Cyber-crooks should take heed: you cannot hide behind distant keyboards. We will bring you to face justice," Seattle-based prosecutor Jenny Durkan said in a statement after Mr. Seleznev was picked up.

In interviews with the Russian media, Valery Seleznev speculated that American officials were detaining his son as a bargaining chip in return for fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats are hoping to see Mr. Seleznev while he still held in Guam.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's commissioner for human rights, tweeted on Friday that a consular visit could take place July 13 or 14.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Globe Newsletters

Get a summary of news of the day

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at