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U.S. use of extradition to nab Russian suspects irks officials in Moscow

| Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, 9:54 p.m.

A little-known extradition case in Costa Rica is shedding light on Russia's practice of vigorously defending its citizens arrested overseas and threatened with extradition to the United States on organized crime charges.

The case involves Maxim Chukharev, a Russian arrested in May for money laundering through Liberty Reserve, a money exchange platform U.S. prosecutors say was the “bank of choice for the criminal underworld” before it was seized.

Last week, after a Costa Rican court gave the go-ahead for Chukharev to be sent to the United States, two senior Russian diplomats gave a dressing down to Costa Rican Ambassador Mario Fernandez Silva in Moscow, warning him that Costa Rica should ignore the extradition request because the “extraterritorial application of America law” is a “vicious practice which should be stopped.”

In a statement on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated a warning for Russian nationals not to travel to any country that has extradition treaties with the United States if they suspect they are wanted by law enforcement agencies.

“Experience shows that the trials of those who were basically abducted and taken to the U.S. are biased, based on shaky evidence and conspicuously accusatory. As a rule, they result in illegitimate verdicts with long prison terms,” the statement read.

A spate of recent arrests of overseas Russians casts a light on what American officials say is the significant role of Russia in transnational crime.

U.S. organized crime experts say Russian criminals working overseas often have connections within the Russian government, and that the Russian government's defense of them is designed to keep those links from emerging in public light.

“Most of these guys operate with a significant amount of state protection. When they go down, the Russian state goes into full panic mode,” said Douglas Farah, a national security consultant and co-author of a book on Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker extradited from Thailand and convicted in a U.S. federal court in 2011.

Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death” because he supplied weapons to a series of radical and outlaw groups, is serving a 25-year prison term.

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