Court filings show prosecutors are concerned that Roman Seleznev, an accused hacker and son of a prominent Russian politician, may be planning to tamper with witnesses in his prosecution, or even escape.
Federal prosecutors say accused Russian hacker Roman Seleznev and his father, a powerful Russian politician and ally of President Vladimir Putin, have been plotting to tamper with witnesses and may have discussed an escape, according to court documents.
Seleznev, 30, is being held at the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in SeaTac, awaiting trial on a 40-count indictment alleging he and a group of co-conspirators hacked into businesses around the world, stealing the credit-card information of tens of millions of consumers and selling them for millions of dollars on the black market.
Seleznev was charged in a sealed indictment handed up by a Seattle grand jury in 2011 but had remained out of the reach of law enforcement in the U.S. until July 2014, when he took a vacation to the Maldives, a tiny string of islands in the Indian Ocean.
The government there alerted U.S. authorities, and Secret Service agents arrested Seleznev at the Maldives airport and took him to Guam for arraignment, and then to Seattle for trial.
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The Russian government responded sharply, accusing the U.S. of kidnapping him.
While Seleznev has been in custody, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has been routinely recording conversations between Seleznev and his father, Valery Seleznev, a member of the Russian Parliament, and federal prosecutors claim in court filings this week that they have uncovered efforts by the two men to speak in code.
“Despite knowing that the calls are being monitored, defendant and his father have discussed plans to tamper with, or possibly harm, witnesses, to manipulate defendant’s conditions of confinement, and to delay the trial,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Barbosa in a brief filed earlier this week.
Those conversations prompted the Bureau of Prisons to notify prosecutors and the U.S. Marshal’s Office about the possible threats.
The documents say Roman Seleznev in November 2014 mentioned the name of a particular witness “who said bad things about me,” calling the statements “all those lies.”
His father responded that “he would have a serious talk about it.”
Since then, according to the documents, Seleznev and his father have discussed the witness several times “and defendant’s father has made several comments that suggest he may be planning to tamper with this witness.”
Moreover, Seleznev and his father have “repeatedly discussed plans to pursue options other than litigation” to free him, including “political negotiations and what the defendant’s father has called ‘Uncle Andrey’s option.’ ” Prosecutors say they don’t know what that option is, since it has only been discussed in code.
“The [Bureau of Prisons] is concerned that defendant and his father may be discussing a potential escape attempt” that would involve “the exaggeration of defendant’s medical impairment to secure an outside medical appointment.”
Roman Seleznev suffered serious head injuries during a bombing in Marrakech, Morocco, in 2011 that killed 17 people. He requires daily medication as a result of his injuries, according to court filings.
The revelations are contained in documents filed by prosecutors in response to a motion by Seleznev’s Seattle attorney, Angelo Calfo, asking U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to prohibit prosecutors from obtaining or using the prison telephone recordings for use in his prosecution.
Calfo claims Seleznev is not familiar with the U.S. legal system and that the government’s routine monitoring of his telephone conversations may constitute a violation of the attorney-client privilege. .
Seleznev speaks only limited English, Calfo wrote, and says that he and his father speak frequently and often discuss “matters of defense strategy and about communications between Mr. Seleznev and his attorneys.”
Prosecutors are opposing the motion, arguing Seleznev knew he was being recorded. They are asking the court to allow them to use the conversations in their case against him.
Calfo declined to comment Wednesday, citing the pending motion.
The government responded that the fact that the calls are monitored and recorded is posted on every telephone and that the conversations are routinely interrupted by a recording stating the conversations is being recorded.
As further proof, prosecutors say that Seleznev has repeatedly warned his father to stop talking about these topics, saying he could be disciplined. In a conversation on Aug. 20, Roman Seleznev told his father that the suspicious nature of their talks had resulted in added security measures.
His father responded by saying, “What can we discuss? Your escape plan or what?”
Information in this article, originally published Oct. 7, 2015, was corrected Oct. 8, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the location of the Maldives.