CLAIMS that dozens of Russian diplomats and their spouses cheated to obtain US healthcare aid meant for the poor have sparked a diplomatic backlash.
The country’s deputy foreign minister blamed the criminal case on “Russophobic forces” interested in scuttling progress on Russia-US co-operation in confronting world conflicts.
Sergei Ryabkov made the remarks after charges were announced in New York City against 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their wives.
He called the charges “no more than a cheap spin effort, no more than a desire to fulfil the order of Russophobic forces in the United States”.
“We regret that attempt to stir up another conflict or dispute, particularly in view of the fact that Moscow and Washington recently have developed a good format of ties regarding big international issues,” he said.
US attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said 25 current and former diplomats and 24 spouses were criminally charged in federal court in Manhattan after they under-reported incomes to qualify for Medicaid funds, even as they spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury holidays, concert tickets, clothes and helicopter rides.
“Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” Mr Bharara said, calling the actions “shameful and systemic corruption”.
No arrests were made and only 11 of the diplomats and their spouses remain in the United States.
The complaint said Medicaid, a healthcare programme for the poor, lost about $1.5m(£920,000) in the scheme since 2004.
The case is unlikely to go to trial because the defendants have diplomatic immunity, Mr Bharara acknowledged.
Mr Ryabkov said Russia rejected the accusations and believed the surveillance of diplomats that led to the charges broke international law.