Bharara charges 49 Russian diplomats of $1.5 million Medicaid benefits scam

The fraud allegedly began in 2004.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has charged 49 Russian diplomats and their spouses of scamming the US government out of $1.5 million in Medicaid benefits.

Citing “systematic corruption” within the ranks of Russian diplomats serving in New York City, Bharara and federal investigators say that diplomats and their spouses recorded incomes far lower than what they actually earned and spent, a scheme that netted them extra Medicaid money that they would not have normally received.

Bharara announced that a criminal case was being brought against the involved parties at a news briefing in New York City yesterday.

The fraud allegedly began in 2004, and continued up until this year. The investigation into the malfeasance took approximately 18 months, and was brought to investigators’ attention in the form of a complaint. Although it is not clear who exactly filed the initial complaint – nor is it clear if it was just one complaint or several filed by multiple people – it is believed to have been other Russians in the diplomatic service who were not listed in the charges files yesterday.

Records show that those involved would report income as low as $21,000, thus making them eligible for Medicaid benefits. However, they would then go and spend lavishly on jewelry, clothing, fine dining, and all sorts of other high-end goods.

Some of these officials involved with the Medicaid scam hold offices in places such as Consulate-General of the Russian Federation, the Russian Federation’s Trade Representation Office, and even the Russian Mission to the United Nations. Some were high-ranking enough to be first and second secretaries in their postings.

Bharara warned other countries that if their Foreign Service workers in the US are engaged in fraud, they would be found and criminally prosecuted.

As for ties with Russia, it is unlikely that this will strain tensions, but the US is keen to begin criminal proceedings against those involved. The catch, however, is that the alleged criminals in this case are protected by diplomatic immunity, which their home government would have to waive in order for the US to be able to prosecute – that seems unlikely.

If the US is unable to pursue a case against the diplomats, they will simply be asked to leave the country right away.

Russian authorities have said that they won’t comment on the case until they review the case themselves first, but have admonished the US for not using diplomatic avenues first before bringing the case into the public spotlight.

Born in Punjab, Bharara grew up in New Jersey. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 2012 for his work in prosecuting criminal activities on Wall Street, and was listed as one of their 100 Most Influential People in the World that same year.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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