The Maldivian government would have “acted differently” if the Home Ministry had been aware that an alleged hacker expelled on July 5 was the son of a Russian lawmaker, Home Minister Umar Naseer said on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) last week.
“Had it been known that he was a high-profile person in Russia, we would have discussed with Russia. We would have talked and found out what they thought of the matter. We don’t want at all to do anything to displease Russia,” Naseer said on TVM’s Raajje Miadhu (Maldives Today) programme Thursday night (July 17).
Naseer said that the Home Ministry was only aware of information concerning the suspect’s alleged crimes, adding that the government had no wish to be caught between Russian-American rivalry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had expressed outrage over the arrest of Roman Valerevich Seleznyov, 30, from the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) and called it a “kidnapping” by the U.S. Secret Service.
The Home Ministry however insisted that Selezynov – son of Russian parliamentarian Valery Seleznyov – was expelled in response to an Interpol red notice with American authorities informed upon his arrival in the Maldives.
The US embassy in Colombo backed the government’s stance with a spokesperson informing Maldivian media that an Interpol red notice had been issued following indictments relating to bank and computer fraud that affected thousands of American citizens.
“This was a law enforcement action, and was based solely on law enforcement considerations. The indictment in this case was returned on March 2011, and thus long predates any current issues involving Russia and the United States. It has nothing to do with any of those issues. Nor was this a ‘kidnapping’ or in any way illegal,” the spokesperson stated.
Seleznyov “was arrested following his expulsion from another country, acting under its own laws. He was advised of his rights and given consular notification. These actions also were in no way inconsistent with any treaty arrangements with Russia.”
While President Abdulla Yameen has dismissed allegations of a US Secret Service operation on Maldivian soil as baseless, Home Minister Naseer insisted in parliament last week that Selezynov was arrested lawfully “by Maldivian police”.
However, Russian media has reported an anonymous eyewitness at the airport as claiming that Selezynov was allegedly handcuffed and led away by “two white guys” before he was about to board a flight to Moscow.
“I can remember one very clearly, one was wearing a green T-shirt and jeans type pants. He cuffed him,” the eyewitness told the Voice of Russia radio station.
While Maldivian police were present, the eyewitness claimed “they were not engaging in anything, they were just behind him.”
Selezynov was taken to the VIP lounge where passengers departing on private jets are processed, the eyewitness explained.
His girlfriend, Anna Otisko, who was with him at the airport told Russian media at a televised press conference on July 11 that her partner was “grabbed by unknown men” at the airport.
Selezynov’s father has also called on Russian authorities to impose economic sanctions on the Maldives and reportedly offered US$50,000 for evidence proving his son was detained by American intelligence agents.
“No legal procedures involving local authorities required for extradition were observed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry contended in a statement.
“The Russian citizen was literally kidnapped, which is a flagrant violation of the laws of any civilised state as well as international law.”
Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon and Attorney General Mohamed Anil meanwhile flew to Sri Lanka last week to brief Russian diplomats regarding the incident.
The ministry said in a statement that “strong, mutually beneficial” relations with Russia would not be derailed due to the “isolated incident.”
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also accused the government of flouting due process in Seleznyov’s arrest.
In a statement, the party said that personnel of Maldivian security services must make arrests within Maldivian territory and a warrant from a Maldivian court must be obtained for such seize-and-arrest operations.
Further, the suspect should also be produced at the relevant court in Maldives prior to repatriation, the party said.
The MDP has also expressed concern the incident may have adverse effects on trade and tourism.
Russia currently ranks fifth in terms of the number of tourist arrivals to Maldives, with more than 33,000 tourist arrivals during the first five months of 2014.