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Russian Diplomats Charged With U.S. Health-Care Fraud

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara during a news conference on December 5 to discuss alleged Medicare fraud by Russian diplomats.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara during a news conference on December 5 to discuss alleged Medicare fraud by Russian diplomats.
U.S. prosecutors have charged 49 past or present Russian diplomats and their spouses with fraudulently claiming $1.5 million from a government health program for the poor.

The charges were unsealed on December 5 in a federal court in Manhattan.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters at a press conference in Washington that it was "reviewing the charges" but that it "not yet in a position to speak to the types of specifics about what might happen"

"Obviously there is a legal procedure that will be unfolding from this point," she added.

The complaint alleges that the accused systematically submitted fraudulent applications for Medicaid benefits for pregnancies, births, and infant care.

The fraud was apparently carried out even as their family members spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on luxury vacations, jewelry, and fancy clothing.

The diplomats and spouses charged in the case currently work or were formerly employed by such offices as the Russian Mission to the United Nations and the Russian Consulate.

The diplomats reportedly have diplomatic immunity and Russia would have to waive it in order for any arrests to be made.

Most of the officials and their spouses were not identified on December 5.

But some were and so were the accusations against them.

According to the indictment, Timur Salomatin, a former Russian diplomat at the UN, and his wife Nailya Babaeva, said they made $3,000 a month when Salomatin's UN salary was $5,160 per month.

Another couple – Andrei Kalinin and Irina Shirshova – are alleged to have under-reported their income and monthly housing costs so that they would be eligible for Medicaid and benefits from programs for women, infants, and children.

In response to the charges, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the indictment would only serve to support "Russophobic forces."

Ryabkov said Moscow rejected the allegations, and claimed that U.S. agents had performed unlawful surveillance on the accused Russians.

The charges are likely to trigger new tensions in U.S.-Russian relations, which are already strained following the enactment of a U.S. law late last year that bars Russians who are seen as human rights abusers from entering the United States.

That legislation sparked a retaliatory measure from Russian lawmakers.

Russia also placed travel bans on U.S. citizens whom Russian authorities consider to be violators of human rights.

Among those U.S. citizens is Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is bringing the health-care fraud charges against the 49 Russian citizens.

Harf told reporters that Washington does not see any reason why these charges should cause tensions in U.S.-Russian relations.

"We don't think this should affect our bilateral relationship with Russia," she said. "Quite frankly, there are too many important issues we have to work on together. The justice system will proceed in the way that it does here in the [United] States and we don't think it should impact our relationship."

Harf said the Russian Embassy and officials in Moscow had already been informed of the charges.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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