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Russian hacking suspect ordered held in Seattle; prosecutors say laptop rich with evidence

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SEATTLE - A federal judge ordered the son of a prominent Russian lawmaker on Friday to remain in custody until his trial on computer hacking charges, after a prosecutor said evidence recovered from his laptop after his arrest in the Maldives gave new insight into the breadth of his activities.

Roman Seleznev, 30, the son of Russian lawmaker Valery Seleznev, appeared in U.S. District Court in Seattle, where he was indicted in 2011 on charges that involved hacking into computerized cash registers, stealing hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers and selling the data online for at least $2 million.

Seleznev faces similar but unrelated charges in Nevada.

In arguing for Seleznev to remain in custody, assistant U.S. attorney Norman Barbosa told the court that at first look, his laptop contained 2.1 million stolen credit card numbers, his criminal behaviour was ongoing, and his profits had topped $17 million.

"Those funds have remained beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, so they are probably — almost definitely — available to the defendant" should he try to flee, Barbosa told Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue.

Even as Seleznev vacationed in the Maldives, he had been searching the online system of the U.S. federal courts for charges filed against him — under his own name and his online nicknames, Barbosa said.

The grand jury in Washington state indicted Seleznev on charges of bank fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, aggravated identity theft, trafficking in unauthorized access devices and possessing stolen credit card numbers.

Among the businesses he is accused of targeting are the Broadway Grill in Seattle, which eventually closed because of the damage the theft did to its reputation; several pizza chains; and the Phoenix Zoo.

A month after the then-sealed indictment was returned, Seleznev suffered a brain injury in a terrorist bombing of a cafe in Morocco. He remained in a coma for two weeks and underwent a series of operations, said Robert W. Ray, one of his lawyers.

U.S. Secret Service agents, working with local officials, arrested Seleznev at an airport in the Maldives last month as he was preparing to return to Russia from vacation with his girlfriend. He was flown to the U.S. territory of Guam, where another federal judge sent him to Seattle.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a range of potential penalties, with some counts punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the U.S. government of kidnapping Seleznev, and Ray reiterated that claim on Friday.

The prosecutor did not respond to that comment but said Seleznev had been careful to constrain his extensive international travel to countries that did not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. He noted that the arrest in the Maldives, an island chain in the Indian Ocean, was made with help from local authorities despite the lack of an extradition treaty.

Ray suggested that his client should be released after posting $100,000 in cash on a $1 million bond, and that he could be placed on home detention, with electronic monitoring and no Internet access, at an extended-stay apartment in Seattle. The law did not include a presumption that Seleznev should remain in custody based on the charges he faces, Ray said.

Ray conceded that the risk of escape was a valid concern for the court but said it could be overcome by those conditions, and that Seleznev posed no threat to public safety.

"He's not going anywhere," Ray said. "This case does not involve an act of terrorism. It does not involve an act of war."

Donohue, however, agreed with prosecutors that there was a risk that Seleznev would flee. Even though Seleznev has surrendered his passport, "the court has no doubt he would be able to procure" documents that would enable him to escape, Donohue said.

Andrey K. Yushmanov, consul general of the Russian Federation in Seattle, attended the hearing and said the government remains concerned about the circumstances of Seleznev's arrest. He said that if the U.S. had a problem with the behaviour of one of its citizens, it should have contacted Russia. Instead, he said, the U.S. turned to a third-party nation, as it did when it arrested Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout in Thailand in 2008.

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Follow Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

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