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Washington and Moscow in new row after Russian diplomats charged
Agence France Presse
File - A police vehicle drives past in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington in this March 22, 2001. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)
File - A police vehicle drives past in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington in this March 22, 2001. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)
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MOSCOW: Russia and the United States were Friday embroiled in a new diplomatic dispute after Moscow reacted furiously to charges launched in the United States against 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their wives over a $1.5 million fraud.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement to Russian news agencies that Moscow had many claims against the behavior of U.S. diplomats in Moscow but had preferred not to bring them into the public sphere.

“We categorically reject the charges against the staff of Russian diplomatic institutions in the United States,” he said, adding it was “illegal” for diplomats to have been watched by the authorities in this way.

“If the American authorities have claims against our citizens ... they should have been made first through diplomatic channels. This is no more than cheap PR and an attempt to fulfill an order by Russophobes in the U.S.,” he added.

Ryabkov hinted that Russia had many allegations it could lay against American diplomatic staff if it so desired but said Moscow had preferred stay quiet.

“We have many claims against how American Embassy staff work and act. But we do not want to go down the path of a rhetorical war of mutual accusations,” he said.

The scandal risks causing a new crisis in U.S.-Russia relations which have already been scarred by Russia’s decision to grant asylum to U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Ryabkov said the case had been created by those in the United States who wanted to spoil constructive trends in U.S.-Russia relations.

“Someone in Washington needed to spoil the atmosphere – we cannot see this any other way.”

Russian Senator Ruslan Gattarov described the charges as “petty revenge on the part of the hawks in the State Department.”

The alleged scam took place between 2004 and August 2013, when the suspects were based at the Russian mission to the United Nations, the Russian Consulate and the Russian trade mission, all in New York.

All the defendants have diplomatic immunity and none have been arrested following a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

They are accused of lying about their true income to claim benefits while splurging on tens of thousands of dollars worth of products in designer shops such as Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo and Prada.

Prosecutors say the group obtained almost $500,000 from Medicaid, a program earmarked for low-income American families, under provisions that pay out funds for children born in the United States.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 07, 2013, on page 8.
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