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US prosecutors charge 49 Russian diplomats with health care fraud

US prosecutors unsealed on Thursday charges [complaint, press release] it has filed against 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their family members for allegedly conspiring to commit health care fraud [18 USC § 1347]. The complaint, which was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], accuses the diplomats of lying about their income or about the citizenship of their children in order to qualify for federal health benefits. The FBI investigated the case for 18 months [FBI press release] and uncovered what it has deemed to be a pattern of deception. The families allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars on luxury items and vacations, while receiving over $1.5 million dollars in Medicaid money for prenatal benefits. Those currently serving as diplomats have diplomatic immunity [NBC report] to the charges, which will have to be waived by Russia in order for the case to proceed.

The relationship between the US and Russia has faced numerous challenges in recent years. Earlier this year, Russia arrested and detained Greenpeace activists despite the protests of the United States, but a Russian court ordered their release [JURIST report] on bail last month, a move that occurred days after the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea [official website] ordered Russia [JURIST report] to release the ship and all of the activists. Russia has also opposed the US in international discussions about how to react to possible war crimes in Syria [JURIST feature], repeatedly vetoing the US's propsed sanctions. This summer, Russia refused to extradite NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, to the US to face charges for his release of confidential government documents to the public. In 2011, Russia passed a ban on US adoptions of Russian children, which it has temporarily delayed enforcing [JURIST report] until January 2014.

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