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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Diplomats Overcharged for Calls

Many diplomats posted to Moscow -- primarily Americans -- have been paying sky-high hard-currency telephone rates for international calls made from their apartments, although they should have been charged the ruble tariff.


Russian officials said they were unaware of the errors, which have been occurring for about a year and have cost some of the envoys more than 15 times the ruble rate.


All persons living in Moscow are supposed to be charged ruble rates for personal international calls placed from their homes, according to Valentina Trosheva, chief accountant of Intercity-International Telephone, a Russian state enterprise.


International tariffs range from 54 to 212 rubles per minute for calls to the United States and 27 to 108 rubles per minute for calls to Europe, depending on the time of day, she said.


In February, new, steeper tariffs were set for business calls placed from embassies and foreign offices: $3 per minute to the United States, and $1. 50 per minute for calls to Europe.


Diplomats from Australia, Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan and France pay rubles for international phone calls from their apartments in the city, according to their embassy press attaches.


But nearly all American diplomats and a few Italian diplomats who live in flats in the city have been paying the hard-currency business tariff, embassy officials said. That rate is also billed to Americans, French and German diplomats who live in residences that are part of embassy compounds, officials said.


The situation varies at the U. S. Embassy.


"A few lucky Americans who live in city apartments are being billed the ruble charges, but the majority pay hard currency", a U. S. diplomat said.


The charges have been occurring "for quite some time", but are not related to any U. S. -Russian agreements, he said, adding that his last monthly phone bill for calls to relatives abroad totalled $600.


Russian officials blame the miscalculations on the bureaucracy and confusion over the hard-currency business telephone charges.


"If diplomats are paying dollars for personal calls from their apartments, that is a mistake", said Andrei Kuznetsov, who manages Dipcomfort, a firm created this summer by UPDK, the state agency that used to handle housing arrangements for all foreigners.


Kuznetsov said the authorities had sent letters to the embassies about the new tariffs and asked for updated lists of telephone numbers.


Ruble tariffs are applied only to private phone numbers in residences, he said.


But none of the letters to embassies that he showed a reporter noted that the information would allow Moscow City Telephone Network to assign a code to the telephone numbers to identify them as business or private phones.


It is still uncertain whether diplomats who have been overcharged will receive refunds.


Trosheva, who sends the Intercity-International Telephone bills, said that Russian customers have received refunds for ruble bills that were miscalculated.


But no precedent has been set concerning hard-currency accounts, she said.