US attorney Preet Bharara has filed charges of Medicaid fraud against 49 diplomats from the Russian mission in Manhattan, accusing them of stealing $1.5 in Medicaid funds over a 9-year period, and using them to splurge of luxury items from cruises to purchases at Prada, Tiffany’s and other high-end retailers.
Each of the Russian envoys was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and make false statements relating to health care matters, which carry maximum sentences of 5-10 years in prison.
According to Bharara, the diplomats and their spouses purposely understated their monthly income by thousands of dollars, backed up by bogus letters from Russian officials in order to take advantage of the program, including claims for pregnancy, birth and medicals expenses for infants born here, despite the fact that they receive free housing from their own government and don’t pay any US taxes.
“The while thing is shameful and systemic corruption,” he stated. “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country.”
Still, he doubts whether the cases will ever be brought to trial, noting that, aside from the fact that only 11 of the accused are still in this country, Russian would have to waive diplomatic immunity for any of the consular, trade and UN mission employees to be arrested or extradited, a matter currently being handled by the State Department.
In the meantime, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister released a statement saying that “his government was ‘bewildered’ that the charges were made public without discussing them through diplomatic channels first.”