Russian diplomat, Indian politician spar over oligarch’s death

Indian police are investigating the death of sausage magnate Pavel Antov over the Christmas weekend.

Russian ambassador to India, Denis Alipov (Photo from Russian Embassy, New Delhi)
Russian ambassador to India, Denis Alipov (Photo from Russian Embassy, New Delhi)

Russia’s top diplomat in New Delhi traded barbs with a senior Indian politician on Twitter late on Thursday over the death of a Russian tycoon once reportedly critical of the Ukraine war, in a rare public spat involving Moscow and a country it views as a friend.

Pavel Antov, a billionaire sausage magnate, was found dead outside his hotel in the eastern Indian state of Odisha last weekend. Indian police are investigating the death, which followed two days after another person travelling with Antov died.

On Thursday, Manish Tewari, a former Indian minister belonging to the opposition Indian National Congress party questioned why the bodies of the two men had been cremated when they were Christians. “Hercule Poirot says burnt bodies tell no tales,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to Agatha Christie’s famous fictional Belgian detective.

Russian ambassador to India Denis Alipov was quick to respond, also on the social media platform. The diplomat thanked Indian officials for the probe into the deaths, but then hit out at Tiwari. “Meanwhile it would be useful for some Hercule Poirot lovers to learn that cremation in Russia is as customary as burial,” he wrote. “Idleness is the root of all evil.”

Tewari later tweeted back, seemingly unconvinced. Meanwhile, the Indian ministry of external affairs said on Thursday it would let the police carry out their investigations and did not want to “jump the gun” on possible causes for Antov’s death.

Antov was a politician in Vladimir, a city 150km (90 miles) east of Moscow, where his meat-processing company is located. He had been a member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. But in June, Russian media published a WhatsApp message attributed to Antov criticising a missile attack on Ukraine. Antov denied writing that message.

The billionaire is the latest wealthy Russian seen to have had differences with Putin to have died since the start of the war in Ukraine and Tiwari’s tweet referenced a news article pointing to that coincidence.

It is unusual for veteran diplomats to engage in public spats with officials — current or former — of their host countries, especially in nations that are seen as friends. India is among the few countries yet to formally condemn the war in Ukraine.

However, the Russian embassy in New Delhi has in the past chided those it views as unfairly critical. In late February, it accused sections of the Indian media of “biased and misleading reporting”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies