Russia expelled The Guardian Moscow correspondent Luke Harding for violating regulations governing the work of foreign correspondents in the country, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
Harding, 42, was refused reentry to Russia at Moscow's Domodedovo airport on Saturday after being absent from the country for two months. He was put on a plane back to Britain, and there were reports that his visa, valid until May 31, 2011, was annulled.
"He violated a number of rules governing the work of foreign correspondents, which were approved by the Russian government in 1994 and which all journalists are very familiar with," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Harding's visa had not been annulled.
"No one stripped him of the visa; it expired last fall," Lavrov said. "He asked for his visa to be extended until May as an exception, and this was done."
The Foreign Ministry said Harding was refused entry because he failed to obtain a new accreditation card before leaving Russia in November.
"If Harding is still interested in working in Russia until his entry visa expires, he needs to have accreditation issues settled with the Russian Foreign Ministry's press and information department," the ministry said.
Harding has fallen foul of the Russian authorities on a number of occasions, mainly for filing articles claiming Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a $40 billion offshore account. The journalist was also briefly detained while reporting last year from the volatile North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia.
"We warned him that he had repeatedly violated Russian entry and accreditation regulations," Lavrov said. "He repeatedly visited a security zone with a counter terrorist operation regime and was notified by the security services that he was supposed to let them know."
A RIA Novosti source in a Russian law enforcement agency said earlier on Tuesday that Harding was blacklisted as a person whose presence in the country was "undesirable."
Harding was also responsible for reporting on U.S. diplomatic cables leaked to The Guardian by WikiLeaks, including allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin has become a "virtual mafia state".
The journalist wrote on his Twitter blog late on Monday: "The Russians have been unhappy with my reporting for a while. But it seems WikiLeaks may have been the final straw."
Harding told RIA Novosti on Tuesday that the Russian Foreign Ministry's explanations were ungrounded.
Reporters Without Borders said earlier on Tuesday it was "deeply disturbed" by Harding's expulsion.
"This is a heavy-handed attempt to get journalists to censor themselves and to prevent impartial coverage of what is happening in Russia," the press freedom organization said in a statement.
Britain's National Union of Journalists also condemned the deportation.
MOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti)