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Russian mogul’s US extradition hearing in Perth in ‘nightmare’ delay


An extradition hearing for a Russian-born technology mogul who has spent more than two years behind bars in Perth has been delayed again, with the magistrate describing the protracted proceedings as a “nightmare”.

Eugeni “Zhenya” Tsvetnenko, 40, is accused of participating in a massive text message scam in the US and was charged by New York authorities with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering in mid-2016.

The father of two wasn’t arrested until December 2018 and has been detained at Hakea Prison ever since, having lost three bids to secure bail after being deemed a flight risk.

He was due to front Perth Magistrates Court for a two-day hearing on Monday, but his barrister Anthony Young successfully applied for an adjournment, arguing US authorities had only provided Mr Tsvetnenko’s legal team with a 500 plus page document a few days ago.

It was “very substantial material”, Mr Young said, and while his client was anxious for the matter to advance, more time was needed to respond in the interest of procedural fairness.

Eric Heenan, for the US, argued the hearing should proceed as “the arguments of law cannot be said to have come by surprise”, and Mr Tsvetnenko’s legal team had had two years to prepare.

Mr Heenan noted an observation by magistrate Joe Randazzo, who initially knocked back Mr Tsvetnenko’s bail application, that the accused was “a man of substantial means”, adding it could not be reasonable to not view him as well resourced.

The barrister accused Mr Tsvetnenko’s lawyers of missing multiple deadlines for filing material, adding the matter could drag out for “another 12 months”.

Magistrate Evan Shackleton said the matter “appeared to be, frankly, plagued by the requested person’s noncompliance”.

“It is not the first time these matters have not been able to be finalised,” Mr Shackleton said.

There was also “not a great deal the requested person could not have seen coming”, and the case had become a “nightmare”, the magistrate said.

“Every effort needed to be made to bring the matter to some sort of conclusion,” he said, but he granted the adjournment, although pushing ahead was an “attractive idea”.

He imposed an April 19 deadline for the lodgement of any new material and set a trial allocation date for April 27.

In December, the United Nations Human Rights Committee rejected an appeal to dismiss a petition lodged by prominent human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson on behalf of Mr Tsvetnenko in late 2019 around Australia’s common refusal of bail in extradition cases.

His camp argued it was out of step with other democracies that recognised allowing bail in extradition proceedings was consistent with the right to be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise by a court.

“He remains locked in a cell for more than 12 hours a day alongside murderers, rapists and pedophiles,” Mr Robertson said at the time.

US authorities allege Mr Tsvetnenko and his co-accused – including former Mobile Messenger executives Darcy Wedd and Fraser Thompson, who were respectively sentenced to 10 years and five years in jail – reaped more than $US150m ($A194m) from an “auto-subscription” scheme and used the cash to fund lavish lifestyles.

Under the scheme, mobile phone customers in the US were allegedly charged for recurring text messages about trivia and horoscopes that they never signed up for.

After Thompson was sentenced in January 2018, the now former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, described it as “gross ‘main street’ fraud” that “ripped off everyday cellphone users, $10 a month”.

“The plan to auto-subscribe with Tsvetnenko came about in early 2012 in connection with discussions between Thompson and three other Mobile Messenger executives … about how to increase revenue at Mobile Messenger in the wake of the decreasing profitability of premium text messaging services,” Mr Berman’s office said.

“Tsvetnenko had been kicked off Mobile Messenger’s aggregation platform in the past due to suspicious subscribing practices, including past incidents of auto-subscribing.”

Nevertheless, they agreed to allow Tsvetnenko to establish two new content providers, CF Enterprises and DigiMobi, to conduct the auto-subscription scheme on Mobile Messenger’s aggregation platform, Mr Berman’s office said.

Mr Tsvetnenko, who appeared in court in person, with his parents supporting him from the public gallery, says he is not guilty.

The multi-millionaire was a prominent figure in Perth’s high-flying social scene, holding extravagant parties and appearing at red carpet events with his estranged wife Lydia, who has attended bail hearings to support him.

The pair co-founded fashion label Zhivago, arrived in a horse-drawn carriage for their manor house wedding and had rapper Snoop Dogg as a guest at Mr Tsvetnenko’s 29th birthday bash.

Mr Tsvetnenko co-owned the Voyeur Bar in Subiaco with founder Malcolm Day, but the venue closed after being targeted in arson attacks in late 2018.

In 2013, Mr Tsvetnenko co-founded a Bitcoin “mining” company – the world’s first publicly listed digital currency firm – which is now known as DigitalX and last month booked a $1m half-year net loss.

It changed its direction to focus on the money transfer sector, still using Blockchain technology to underpin its software, Mr Tsvetnenko said on his LinkedIn profile.

Mr Tsvetnenko was a BRW Young Rich lister, Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner and also once scooped the Business News “40 Under 40” award.

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