Washington blacklists Putin's favorite singer

According to Forbes magazine, Leps is the second wealthiest Russian musician, with an estimated income of $15 million in 2012. Source: PhotoXpress

According to Forbes magazine, Leps is the second wealthiest Russian musician, with an estimated income of $15 million in 2012. Source: PhotoXpress

Kremlin asks for an explanation as the U.S bans Grigory Leps from entering the country, saying he’s part of the Brother’s Circle crime group. Meanwhile the Russian Foreign Ministry insists he is “innocent until proven guilty.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry says Washington’s decision last week to put the popular Russian singer Grigory Leps on the U.S. Treasury black list violates the "innocent until proven guilty" principle. 

Leps has been barred from travelling to the United States, and any assets he owns there will be frozen until a formal investigation is completed. Leps says the U.S. authorities should also dig up Frank Sinatra's body and put him in jail while they’re at it. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Moscow is puzzled by the U.S. decision, and demands explanations. 

“The Russian Foreign Ministry firmly believes that the question of Russian citizens' guilt or innocence should be decided in our own country within the Russian justice system,” the ministry said in a statement. “We find it unacceptable when the United States tries to take over that role, pinning labels on people and violating the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence. We will not accept this." 

The U.S. Treasury blacklisted the popular Russian singer as they investigate suspected linked to the Brothers’ Circle crime syndicate. The organization operates in Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, and the U.S. Leps, whose real name is Grigoriy Lepsveridze, was put on the blacklist along with two other Russians, Vadim Lyalin and Igor Shlykov. The singer said he does not feel the need to “explain myself to another country's government." 

Meanwhile, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will follow the situation closely. He stressed that Mr. Leps (who Peskov said was President Putin’s favorite singer) was a Russian citizen, “and therefore protecting his interests, and the interests of any Russian citizen, is very important to us.” 

“Obviously, we expect to receive more detailed information as to the reasons for such a step by the U.S. government," Peskov added. 

Leps said that so far, he has not been contacted by the U.S. government, but would be happy to answer any questions if asked. 

“I have my own country, Russia, and I have my own government," he said. “It appears that [the U.S.] has decided to stage yet another witch hunt so as to keep the layabouts in their secret services busy. I have no idea where they get their information from.” 

In addition, the singer said he has never had any bank accounts in the U.S. or Europe, and therefore there were no assets to freeze.

A statement posted on the U.S. Treasury website on Oct. 30 named Grigory Leps among six people allegedly linked to Vladislav Leontyev and Gafur Rakhimov, who are members of the influential Eurasian crime syndicate known as the Brothers’ Circle.

The statement said the Russian singer acted as a money courier for Leontyev, the leader of the syndicate. The sanctions imposed by the Treasury include a ban on any financial transactions between U.S. citizens and the persons named on the list, and a freeze on any U.S. assets held by these persons.

According to Forbes magazine, Leps is the second wealthiest Russian musician, with an estimated income of $15 million in 2012.

Maya Serikova, the singer’s assistant said Leps first heard about the Treasury’s ban through the media and has not received any official notifications.

“On the one hand, this is all ridiculous, but on the other, this is surprising and unexpected,” Serikova said. “He lives in central Moscow. He has not moved anywhere, nor has he been planning to. He is a law-abiding Russian citizen. He does not have any real estate or bank accounts in the United States. This is all a fabrication.”

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it gave the Russian Foreign Ministry a prior notification about its decision to put Leps on the Treasury black list, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

“I can confirm that we had notified the Russian government before taking this step. The embassy had notified the Foreign Ministry,” U.S. Embassy’s spokesman Joseph Kruzich said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has also confirmed that it was notified prior to the U.S. announcement.

Based on materials from Kommersant and Gazeta.ru.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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