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By John Helmer in Moscow

Canada has refused an entry visa for Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin’s special representative to Africa. The reason, according to Canadian sources, is Margelov’s past connexions to the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency.

While officially, the Canadian Embassy in Moscow and government in Ottawa refuse to comment publicly on individual visa issues, a Moscow newspaper has published Margelov’s account in which he says “my conclusion is that they rejected me because of something in my biography… Since I got visas in 2005 and 2006…in my biography three things have changed: a young son was born; I have grown thinner by 10 kilograms; and in December 2008 the President appointed me the special representative for Sudan.” Margelov makes no secret of his family and career ties with the KGB. He has told Business Day he studied Arabic under intelligence agency auspices, and then taught the subject at an agency school in the 1980s.

Margelov is a member of the Federation Council, as the upper house of the Russian parliament is known, and chairman of its International Affairs Committee. Since his appointment nine months ago to the post of Africa troubleshooter, Margelov has been involved in formulating Russia’s anti-piracy policy for the Horn of Africa, but he was not in President Dmitry Medvedev’s delegation which visited Egypt, Nigeria, and Namibia in June. Speaking of Somalia, Margelov told Business Day: “if we don’t rebuild Somalia, piracy will continue. This is a disease of the failed state. Roubles are more efficient than arms.” But he has counseled against Kremlin involvement in the west African troubles of Russia’s aluminium monoply, Rusal. When the new military ruler of Guinea, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, first signaled several weeks ago that Guinea was considering the withdrawal of Rusal’s concession rights to bauxite mines and an alumina refinery, Margelov told Business Day there was no Russian state interest at stake, adding that Rusal’s problems were “a commercial matter”. He was “not surprised”, he said, that conflicts would arise “for young Russian entrepreneurs who picked up their habits of privatisation in Russia [in the 1990s]. We want to have friendly relations with the African countries. The Russian national interest is to settle the scandal.”

Asked how he interprets last week’s Guinean court ruling that Rusal had acted unlawfully to acquire the Friguia alumina refinery, Margelov’s spokesman said: “Margelov has no idea about this [Guinean] transaction. He knows nothing.”

A reliable Canadian source told Business Day that when Margelov received his earlier visas, his intelligence associations had been missed. “If these connections came to light for the first time this year, then as far as the Embassy bureaucrats are concerned, they had no choice but to refuse the visa. They are bound by the extremely restrictive Canadian law to refuse a visa to anyone with any prior employment in a state security agency — that is, intelligence.” But Canadian law allows special waivers, and what happened next, the source suggested, was that the government in Ottawa agreed to make an exception for Margelov. This allowed him a right of entry, permitting him this week to attend a conference organized by Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in Ottawa, but not to travel beyond Ottawa, or extend his trip.

In June, it was revealed in a Toronto court, Canada has been denying an entry visa for Vitaly Malkin, a Russian businessman who is also a member of the Federation Council. Heavily edited court documents reported in the Canadian press indicate that since 1994, Malkin has been ruled inadmissible to Canada “for being a member of a group engaging in organized or transnational crime.” It was his current appeal of that decision that led to the revelations of secret information and the private hearings. According to Malkin, “my reputation has been sullied. I’ve never been charged with any crime; never convicted of anything. I’ve never been denied entry into any country other than Canada. Canada is the only country I can’t get into.”

By treaty, Canada joins the US, the UK, and Australia in sharing information on individuals applying for visas. If one country blackballs an applicant, the others should follow suit, unless a special waiver is given. An Australian diplomatic source told Business Day that a special visa waiver was issued to permit Oleg Deripaska, the owner of Rusal, to enter the country, after he was barred from entering the US. Australian ambassador to Moscow, Margaret Twomey, refused to say if Margelov and Malkin have visited Australia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Canadian visa action against Margelov “causes bewilderment and well-founded aversion… [The Canadian] references that M.V.Margelov ‘can cross the Canadian border’, do not change the essence of the matter. The issue of putting order in the visa sphere in Russian-Canadian relations has been proposed by us for a long time. We count on the Canadian side to start correction of the development of it absolutely abnormal position…”

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