Latvia blocks ousted Moscow mayor's residency drive

17th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Latvia has banned Moscow's ousted mayor Yury Luzhkov from entering the country, dashing the controversial figure's application for residency in the Baltic state, authorities said Monday.

Andrejs Rjabcevs, a spokesman for Latvia's immigration department, told AFP the country had decided to place Luzhkov "on the so-called blacklist".

"It means effectively that his application would be denied," Rjabcevs explained.

The decision was made at the behest of the Latvian security services, he said.

He did not elaborate on the Luzhkov case, but noted security services generally asked for a ban if they suspected an individual of a crime or posing a threat to public order.

Earlier Monday, Latvia's Interior Minister Linda Murniece said that Luzhkov -- a once-powerful official who was axed in September after falling foul of the Kremlin -- had applied for a residency permit at Latvia's embassy in the Russian capital in December.

"He always said publicly that he basically hates this country. I think that is a good enough reason for him not to get a residence permit," Murniece told reporters.

Relations between the Baltic nation of 2.2 million and giant Russia have been rocky since Riga won independence when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.

Ties have thawed, however, after a landmark visit to Moscow last month by Latvian President Valdis Zatlers.

In Russia on Monday, Luzhkov confirmed that he had applied, but denied that he had any plans to leave Russia for good.

He told Russia's Interfax news agency that he aims "to have freedom of movement" and that the application "does not mean that I am moving to Latvia".

Luzhkov applied under a residence-for-investment law for non-European Union citizens, brought in last year to help revive Latvia's slump-struck economy.

Because Latvia is an EU member, its legal residents can travel easily throughout the 27-nation bloc and Europe's visa-free Schengen zone.

Individuals who invest at least 25,000 lats (36,000 euros, 47,550 dollars) in a Latvia-based business can apply.

Less red tape is required if the individual deposits about 200,000 lats in a bank for a minimum of five years.

According to Latvian media reports, Luzhkov invested that sum in the Riga-based bank Rietumu Banka. The bank told AFP it had no immediate comment.

Luzhkov became mayor of Moscow in 1992 and eventually established himself as one of Russia's most powerful regional bosses.

But he lost a political tug of war with the Kremlin and was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev in September.

Luzhkov and his wife Yelena Baturina -- who became Russia's richest woman when he was in power -- have found themselves in the spotlight over their business dealings.

© 2011 AFP

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