Imagine the son of a Member of Congress sitting on the beach in the Caribbean, when strange looking men in suits approach him. And not bathing suits.

The men, officials of the FSB – Russian intelligence and law enforcement, grab the kid, put him in a car, then a boat, then a plane and ferry him off to a Russian owned island to face allegations that something he did online violated Russian law.

The process, known as “informal extradition” (because kidnapping is such an ugly word), is perfectly legal.  Well, not perfectly – but the U.S. Supreme Court  has held that the suspect “extradited” has no rights under the extradition treaties, and the fact that they grabbed him off the beach has no impact on the Russians’ ability to try him.

Such is the case of alleged “carder” Roman Seleznev, who was indicted by a Seattle federal grand jury in 2011 for conspiracy to commit credit card fraud as part of a global “carder” network that stole and sold credit card numbers from US businesses.

One such business, Seattle’s Capitol Grill, reportedly had to shut down because of the expense and publicity associated with the data breach.

The indictment, and a similar RICO indictment in Las Vegas, are pretty standard stuff for carding.  It alleges that the defendant, through a series of hacker handles and websites, broke into computers and stole credit card numbers, manufactured and sold fake credit card numbers and distributed these fake cards and card numbers globally.

What is interesting is the reaction of the Russian government.

You see Roman Selenzev is no ordinary 30-year-old Russian. His father is Valery Seleznev, a member of the Politburo.  So when Roman was arrested in the Maldives and shipped off to Guam (a US territory) for processing and then transfer to Seattle, Valery was understandably upset.  The Russian foreign ministry  noted:

“We consider this as the latest unfriendly move from Washington. This is not the first time the US side, ignoring a bilateral treaty … on mutual assistance in criminal matters, has gone ahead with what amounts to the kidnapping of a Russian citizen.”

You see, in 1999 the United States and the Russian Federation entered into a Mutual  Legal Assistance Treaty  (MLAT) that discusses how the countries will cooperate in criminal investigations, how they will extradite prisoners, how they will gather evidence, and how they generally will cooperate in investigations.

The Russians complain that the Americans didn’t follow the rules.  In fact, the Russians accuse the Americans of “kidnapping” the Parliament Member’s son from the Maldives just because we put a black bag over his head and whisked him into a waiting van.

You can’t please some people!  Oh and they charge that the younger Seleznev is not guilty, with the ITAR-Tass news agency noting that his father said, “This is a monstrous lie and a provocative act.”

So who is right, and who is wrong?

Unfortunately for the Russians, the MLAT treaty simply doesn’t apply in the Maldives.  In fact, during the cold war (and today) it was a common practice to lure a subject from a nation where they were afforded rights or privileges (like their home country) to another country where they had no such privileges so they could be arrested.

So if you post something online that’s critical of the Chinese or North Korean government,  and remain in your house in Detroit, you’re safe (well, safe from the Chinese government).  But if you travel to China, or even to Windsor, Ontario – you’re fair game.

Whether what the US Government did was “legal” depends then on the law of the Maldives.  Under Article 10 (a) of the Maldives Constitution all laws are governed by the law of Islam – sharia law, and Article 10(b) provides no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.

As we learned from the Boko Haram abductions, Sharia Law as practiced is loose on the concept of “kidnapping.”  Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the FBI or the US Marshals Service cleared their actions with their Maldives’ counterparts, the Maldives Police Service.  So point for the Russians.  Selenzev was kidnapped.

Selenzev was kidnapped – and we don’t care.  That’s a problem.

You see, the United States reserves the right to “informally extradite” people anywhere in the world.  Whether it’s the streets of Benghazi, Mexico City, Rome, or the Maldives, if we think you have violated U.S. law, we claim the right to just grab you and put you on a plane, train or automobile to a federal courthouse.

So while the Maldives might complain (maybe kick out an Ambassador or two) as for the Russians – serves you right for taking a vacation in the Indian Ocean.

Problem is, the Internet.  You see, it’s kind of global.  Things posted in Poughkeepsie can be perused in Peking.  So Facebook postings in San Antonio can subject the poster to stoning in Saudi Arabia.   A bikini picture can violate the modesty laws in Singapore.  That has always been the case.  But if the Saudi’s asked the US to extradite an immodest teenager, we would tell the Saudi’s to pound sand.  They have enough of it.

The Russian case demonstrates the U.S. legal position that the Saudis no longer have to wait for the State Department, Justice Department or other agencies to cooperate.  They can wait till the teenager is on a beach in the Bahamas, and whisk them off to face imprisonment or worse.  And the remedy is political – not legal.  The worm turns.

That’s why we have laws.  We don’t always follow them.  But we should.  When we can.  Have a happy summer vacation!  And hey — be careful out there!

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