The speaker of Russia’s upper legislative body has accused unspecified foreign embassies of hosting illegal gambling on their premises. On Wednesday, Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko (pictured) ordered a parliamentary foreign affairs committee to launch an investigation into the activity. It’s unclear whether Matviyenko was referring to land-based or online gambling.
The diplomatic broadside came shortly after Russia’s parliament approved new fines for anyone caught organizing illegal gambling outside the country’s designated gambling zones. The new measures apply equally to land-based and online gambling.
The TASS news agency quoted Matviyenko saying she had “objective grounds” for making her allegations. Matviyenko called the alleged activity “unacceptable” and, while acknowledging that diplomatic missions enjoyed territorial immunity, Matviyenko insisted embassy staff “should definitely behave in the proper manner.”
The notion that a casino might be operating out of a diplomatic embassy isn’t entirely farfetched, particularly in jurisdictions in which casino gambling is forbidden. The past couple years has seen a number of embassies in Japan accused of hosting illegal activity, including the most recent case in which Ghana formally recalled its ambassador after he unwittingly rented out a portion of the embassy to a gambling ring.
In Russia’s case, the allegations may have a lot more to do with the regime’s desire to paint foreigners as the cause of the country’s economic malaise. Russia’s muckraking in the Ukraine led to the US and Europe imposing financial sanctions, which, combined with the recent dramatic drop in oil prices, have caused the ruble to plummet in value. The volatility recently prompted Apple to suspend online sales in the country until the currency shows signs of stabilizing.
It’s possible Canada’s embassy will come under extra scrutiny from Matviyenko’s probe. PokerStars, which is now owned by Canada’s Amaya Gaming, does huge business in Russia. More to the point, during last month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally told Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull his forces out of Ukraine. Expect a breathless Russia Today report any day now claiming that Stars’ servers are being run out of the Canadian embassy’s basement.