Russia is expected to issue a formal protest against the Costa Rican government after authorities in the Central American nation handed over a Russian national to the United States, where he is wanted for allegedly helping organize a $6-billion money-laundering scheme through a digital currency service company.
Maxim Chukharev, 26, is being held in a federal detention center in New York awaiting trial on charges that he helped design and maintain Liberty Reserve, a company set up in Costa Rica by US citizen Arthur Budovsky as a money-transfer business, but which was allegedly used for criminal transactions.
Budovsky, who was arrested last year in Madrid, remains in custody in Spain while he fights a High Court extradition approval, issued in February. He told a judges panel hearing in January that he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”
According to the Russian Embassy in San Jose, Chukharev, who was born in Ukraine and had been living in Costa Rica for 14 years, was handed over to US authorities on March 27 without his family’s knowledge.
He was arrested by Costa Rican authorities on May 24, 2013 as part of an international sweep after a US grand jury handed down an indictment against him and six other suspects, including Budovsky, in connection with the Liberty Reserve money-laundering case.
This incident tarnishes our relations,” says Russian envoy
According to the US Justice Department, Liberty Reserve processed some 55 million transactions – most of them illegal – for more than 200,000 customers in the United States. Proceeds it laundered allegedly came from credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography and narcotics trafficking, prosecutors said.
“We object to the extraterritorial application of US laws on Russian citizens,” Russia’s ambassador in San Jose, Alexander Dogadin, told EL PAÍS on Monday. “This mortifies and troubles us.”
Dogadin explained that he received word that Chukharev had been handed over by sources but was not able to speak with the wanted suspect. “It was 7am, and I rushed over to the airport but I wasn’t able to find out anything. I spoke with the judge and she told me that she only verified the extradition order. I tried to board the plane, but the pilot wouldn’t allow me on board.”
Chukharev, who also has dual Costa Rican nationality, had been in custody awaiting the final ruling concerning his extradition, which was expected to be handed down on April 4. But it came earlier than expected.
“[The Costa Rican authorities] bow down to US pressure, and prefer not to ignite a confrontation,” Chukharev told the local daily Extra in an exclusive interview from his jail cell in December. He denied the charges, and explained that he only worked in technical support for Budovski’s company.
“This incident tarnishes our relations,” said Dogadin, who added that he was awaiting instructions from Moscow to lodge a formal protest with the government of President Laura Chinchilla.