Russia closes British Council's all regional offices

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Moscow, Dec 12 (UNI) Russia has closed all the offices of the British Council outside Moscow from the start of next year over tax and legal status violations.

''To resolve these issues requires a separate bilateral agreement on the status and conditions of cultural centers, none of which currently exist,'' official spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry Mikhail Kamynin said today in a statement.

The British Council, whose offices were raided by tax police in 2004, has allegedly been involved in three years of legal wrangling with Russian authorities over non-payment of tax and questions over its legal status in Russia.

The organisation, which is the cultural arm of the British Embassy and promotes education and cultural programmes, first established an office in Moscow in the 1990s and went on to open a further 14 offices across Russia, only two of which remain open.

Kamynin said there was no bilateral status agreement in place permitting the opening of these regional offices.

''Not only was it not received, it was never requested, meaning that the British Council violated a host of Russian financial, tax and other legislation,'' he said.

The pressure on the British Council is reported to be a part of a long-running campaign by Russia against the UK which hit an all-time low following the murder of Kremlin critic and former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006.

The British Council and the Foreign Office have repeatedly denied tax laws have been breached and said the council was operating in compliance with both Russian and UK legislation.

UNI

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