MOSCOW -- Russia vowed Thursday to stand by the entertainer blacklisted this week by the U.S. for alleged ties to a criminal group, and who also is President Vladimir Putin's favorite singer.
Grigory Leps, whose real name is Grigory Lepsveridze, was among several Russian nationals blacklisted by the United States for acting on behalf of an international crime syndicate known as the Brothers' Circle, the Treasury Department said in a statement Wednesday.
Lepsveridze, 51, was identified in the statement as the organization’s money courier on behalf of Vladislav Leontyev, “a key member of the Brothers’ Circle and has been involved in various criminal activities, including narcotics trafficking.”
The singer, who is touring eastern Siberia, called the accusations absurd.
“To me this story sounds ridiculous and delirious, and of course it came as a surprise,” Lepsveridze said in a statement Thursday on his official website. “If the U.S. Treasury’s leadership considers me a criminal, let them dig out Frank Sinatra and put him in prison, which is as absurd as accusations against me.”
The singer said that the United States is “a wonderful country” but that if he were banned he “could live with that."
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who called Leps not only his boss’ favorite singer but also the entire country’s favorite, told reporters Thursday that the Kremlin is watching the situation.
“Naturally we expect to get more detailed information from our colleagues and partners as to why such a decision was taken and why he was included in such lists,” Peskov said. “In any case he is a Russian citizen and his interests, same as the interests of all Russian citizens, will be protected.”
Singer and prominent lawmaker Iosif Kobzon, 76, who has been denied a U.S. entry visa since 1995 for alleged criminal ties, recommended some sort of retaliation by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“Some rascal must have written a letter to the State Department,” he said to RIA Novosti. “And since it was aimed against a celebrity the State Department momentarily reacts and makes a decision.”
“It is utter stupidity,” Kobzon said.
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