Critical Kremlin Reporter Expelled

A journalist was refused entry to Russia on Sunday, just days after publishing a story that claimed the presidential administration had a secret multimillion-dollar fund that it used to finance parties during the State Duma elections.

Natalya Morar, a Moldovan citizen who writes for Moscow-based magazine The New Times, was refused entry at Domodedovo Airport after returning from a business trip to Israel, she said by telephone from the Moldovan capital, Chisinau.

"They said, 'You are banned from entering the Russian Federation," said Morar, 23.

When she asked border guards why she was being barred, she was told that it was on orders from the Federal Security Service, she said.

An FSB spokesman said his agency would not have any comment on the matter Sunday. The FSB oversees the work of the border guards.

Morar said she believed that her recent report about the Kremlin slush fund prompted her expulsion. "I am certain -- I have no doubts that it has to do with my professional work," she said. "It is because of my last article."

The article, "The Black Till of the Kremlin," which cites numerous unidentified officials in political parties and the presidential administration, says the presidential administration has a huge cash fund from which it funded and controlled most of the parties that participated in the recent State Duma elections. It names Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin and Vladislav Surkov, one of his deputies, as the people who control the money.

A Kremlin spokesman could not be reached on his cell phone for comment Sunday.

Morar is one of more than two dozen journalists who have been refused entry to Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, including former Moscow Times reporter Thomas de Waal, now the Caucasus editor at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, who was refused a visa in 2006.

Morar, who graduated from Moscow State University last year, is a former spokeswoman for The Other Russia, an opposition coalition whose streets protests have been violently opposed by the authorities. Before that, she worked in Open Russia, a nongovernmental organization that was funded by now-jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Border guards initially told Morar that she should go back on the flight to Tel Aviv, even though she did not have a multiple entry visa for Israel, she said. Eventually, colleagues gave her money to buy a ticket to Chisinau. Moldovan citizens do not need a visa to visit Russia.

The border guards told her that the ban could last three or five years, she said.

Her sources for the article had warned her of the dangers of writing the article, she said, adding that they had asked for anonymity for their own safety.

The article was one of a series of that Morar has written investigating the financial transactions of the Russian elite. A story in May claimed that Kremlin officials were using dozens of banks to launder money. Her story linked the transfer of the funds with the murder last year of Andrei Kozlov, a senior central banker.

Fellow journalists denounced the expulsion. "It is double standards and a classic political punishment when a person who lives in Moscow, works in a Moscow publication and is a professional journalist is expelled from Russia on the basis of some kind of unclear order from Lubyanka," said Igor Yakovenko, deputy head of the Russian Journalists Union, Gazeta.ru reported. FSB headquarters is located on Lubyanskaya Ploshchad.

Morar said she would go to the Russian Embassy on Monday to seek an explanation.

New Times deputy editor Yevgenia Albats told Ekho Moskvy radio that the liberal Russian-language magazine was considering legal action.