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By John Helmer, Moscow

Oleg Deripaska, denied regular visa entry into the US for many years on US evidence of his business practices, has claimed in a Moscow press announcement this week that the barrier has been lifted. It hasn’t. Instead, he’s being escorted through a trapdoor.

A publication in Kommersant by three reporters, Polina Yeremenko, Alexander Gabuev, and Vladimir Soloviev, claims that after spending $1.16 million lobbying for a US visa, Deripaska has been allowed to enter the US to attend the heads of government session of the Asia and Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group.

Deripaska has claimed official governmental status as a member of the Business Advisory Council of APEC. In the council’s report to the APEC summit meeting in Singapore in 2009, Deripaska signed as one of the three Russian representatives; the other two at the time were Andrei Kostin, head of VTB Bank and Alexander Medvedev, deputy chairman of Gazprom. Kommersant claims Deripaska qualified as “chairman of the Russian part of the APEC Business Advisory Council, which he headed from 2007.”

The spin, according to Kommersant, is that “the long history of struggle for Mr. Deripaska’s U.S. visa has come to an end. Ability to enter the United States is extremely important for Oleg Deripaska as the largest co-owner of Rusal… since 1998, Mr. Deripaska has problems with a U.S. visa. Entry into the United States has been barred for him on suspicion by the FBI of links between the tycoon and organized crime.”

In August and October of 2009, Deripaska received a temporary exemption of this visa ban for what is known as parole in the US Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA). This restricted his movements and the purpose of his visit to two rounds of business meetings with US corporations. The INA parole confirmed the continuing Deripaska ban.

Then on September 15, last year, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent an official letter to Deripaska’s lobbyist in Washington, Adam Waldman, chief executive of Endeavor Group. Lavrov admitted the Deripaska ban, referring to it as “certain ambiguity upon [sic] his visa status in the United States”, and “a persistent state of limbo regarding Mr Deripaska’s ability to travel freely between our two countries.” Here is the full text of Lavrov’s letter.

Lavrov requested lobbying by Waldman of US government and congressional officials “to explore unambiguous multi-entry visa status for entry to the United States for Mr Oleg V. Deripaska”. Lavrov ended his letter with the threat that “the findings of your [lobbyist’s] enquiry will be taken into consideration in our dialogue with the U.S. Government in this regard.”

Waldman and the Endeavor Group’s contacts then went to work; in their most recent public report, required for filing with the US Department of Justice, Foreign Agents Registration Unit, Endeavor Group revealed that they “supported Client’s [Deripaska’s] role as Russian Federation President Medvedev’s delegate to the US-hosted Asia-Pacific economic Cooperation Summit and pre-Summit activities.”

That was the trapdoor Deripaska, Lavrov and the Washington lobbyists devised for letting Deripaska cross the frontier. It appears to be neither unambiguous, nor the free travel visa which Lavrov had asked for. Nor does it substantiate the claims the Rusal prospectus made in its disclosure to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in January of 2010. In the prospectus, it was claimed that “neither his movements nor his activities was [sic] restricted. Mr. Deripaska has also confirmed to the Company that, to the best of his knowledge, he is not under investigation by any U.S. authority.”

Several months later, it has been confirmed that Deripaska, another Rusal board member, and other senior Rusal executives were under investigation by the State Department and other US agencies, including the FBI. A source in one of Rusal’s foreign representation offices reported a case of new US visa restrictions.

The APEC summit is scheduled to take place on November 12-13. A preparatory session of the Business Advisory Council was held in San Francisco last month.

Responding to the Deripaska claims, the official position of the State Department is: “We cannot speak to this specific case, due to 222(f) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that all U.S. visa records are confidential. What I can tell you is that all visa applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the requirements of U.S. immigration law.”

A US Government release for the APEC preparations says: “The United States does not have a unique visa category for APEC delegates. The normal procedures for requesting visas from U.S. embassies or consulates abroad for diplomats, international organization officials, employees of a foreign government, or business travelers should be followed.”

Unofficially, what appears to have happened is that Deripaska and his Washington lobbying firm came up with the idea that if Deripaska were accredited by the Kremlin as an official member of the Russian delegation to the APEC summit meeting, then Deripaska would be allowed to enter the US on an A category visa. This is a highly restrictive permit, however, and it limits Deripaska’s access to the US unless he’s holding President Dmitry Medvedev’s hand.

According to a US Government source, Russian officials “who are traveling to the United States on official business are issued A visas.” Excerpts of the US immigration regulations set out these restrictions for A-visa entry:

Diplomatic applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for a diplomatic (A) visa under immigration law. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. For an A-1 or A-2 visa, you must be traveling to the United States on behalf of your national government to engage solely in official activities for that government. The fact that there may be government interest or control in a given organization is not in itself the defining factor in determining if you qualify for an A visa; the particular duties or services that will be performed must be governmental in character or nature, as determined by the United States Department of State, in accordance with U.S. immigration laws. Government officials traveling to the United States to perform non-governmental functions of a commercial nature, or traveling as tourists, require the appropriate visa, and do not qualify for A visas.

Foreign officials who are traveling to the United States on official business must obtain an A visa prior to their entry. They cannot travel on tourist’s visas, or visa free under the Visa Waiver Program. Please note that U.S. visa law indicates that if a visa applicant is entitled to an A visa as a principal or dependent, he or she must receive an A visa. The exceptions to this rule are extremely limited.

Qualified A visa applicants traveling to the United States for assignments of less than 90 days will be issued visas annotated “TDY” (temporary duty).

When the Kommersant reporters asked Deripaska’s spokesman, Sergei Babichenko, whether there are visa restrictions for Deripaska’s APEC entry, including expiry at the end of the US presidency of APEC, Babichenko reportedly did not answer. He is quoted by the newspaper as claiming there is “a perfectly normal visa,” and all other details are “a private matter for Mr Deripaska.” Asked again, directly, if Deripaska’s US entry is by an A visa, Babichenko did not reply.

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