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    Russia denies U.S.-funded NGO chief on international wanted list

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    MOSCOW, December 21 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Interior Ministry denied Friday media reports that the head of a U.S.-funded NGO who was charged with smuggling earlier this year is now on international wanted list.

    Manana Aslamazyan, a Russian citizen who headed the Educated Media Foundation, was charged after Russian customs officers discovered she had failed to declare foreign currency after a trip abroad. She was found to be in possession of approximately $2,800 more than the permitted sum of $10,000.

    "Aslamazyan is on the federal wanted list, but has not been placed on an international list," a spokesperson for the ministry's investigation committee said.

    In April, police mounted a raid on the NGO's Moscow headquarters, seizing computers and financial documents.

    Formerly known as Internews Russia, the Educated Media Foundation was involved in training broadcast journalists, who were largely from the Russian provinces.

    Supported by grants from Western charities such as the Open Society Institute, as well as the USAID and TACIS assistance programs, the group was ordered to suspend its operations following the raids, and was then forced to close down altogether.

    The case against Aslamazyan prompted more than 2,000 Russian journalists to send an open letter of protest to President Vladimir Putin. The journalists claim the proceedings against Aslamazyan were launched to deter foreign-funded NGOs from meddling in Russian politics.

    Aslamazyan's lawyer said he had appealed the decision to include his client on a federal wanted list, and that investigators had justified their move by the fact that Aslamazyan's whereabouts were 'unknown'.

    "In reality, everyone knows perfectly well that she is in Paris," he said.

    In late 2005, the Russian parliament passed a Kremlin-sponsored bill preventing foreign NGOs from running branch offices in the country, thus making Russian groups ineligible for most sources of foreign funding.

    Presented by authorities as a measure to protect national security, the bill drew a strong reaction from the Council of Europe and rights activists at home and abroad, who called the new piece of legislation an attempt to weaken civil society.

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