‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2011’ introduced in the US Congress

The ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2011’ (the “Magnitsky Act”) has been introduced for consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman James McGovern, Co-Chair of the U.S. Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The Magnitsky Act imposes visa and economic sanctions on Russian state officials who are responsible for human rights abuses, torture and the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009. The Maagnitsky Act also extends US sanctions to those Russian officials who are involved in the subsequent cover-up of Magnitsky’s illegal detention and torture. The Magnitsky Act is now slated for mark-ups by House Committees and for consideration in the larger Congress.

In introducing the Magnitsky Act in the US House of Representatives on 15 April 2011, Congressman McGovern testified that the facts of the case

“make Sergei Magnitsky an emblematic victim of much larger human rights problems in the Russian Federation, the utter corruption and the complete lack of the rule of law in that country. This is what makes the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act not just an urgent intervention and attempt to establish accountability in an individual case, but it makes this Act a true Russian Human Rights Act.”

The co-sponsors of the Bill include influential Representatives from both parties: Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Sue Wilkins Myrick (R-NC), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Frank R. Wolf (R-VA).

In his remarks in front of the House of Representatives, Congressman McGovern said that Mr Magnitsky was “a remarkable person” who “had the courage to stand up for what is right.” Sergei Magnitsky was an outside lawyer for the Hermitage Fund, for many years the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia.

“Sergei Magnitsky was special, because he was undeterred in the face of an enormous state apparatus that only served the interests of those people whom he had implicated,” said Congressman McGovern.

In his speech Congressman McGovern highlighted the impunity of Russian officials in the Magnitsky case, further noting:

“Mr. Magnitsky was imprisoned not because he had committed a crime, but because he reported one – he just reported it to the wrong people, the very Russian government officials who had orchestrated a massive tax fraud scheme, and continued to report them increasingly louder the more he was threatened by Russian officials to keep quiet…Up until now, no serious investigation into these matters has been undertaken, and most worrisome, no one has been held accountable. Not for the fraud, not for the abuse, not for the death.”

Since last year prominent human rights activists have been urging world leaders to create legal consequences for the Russian officials implicated in the Magnitsky case, none of whom have not been brought to justice in Russia. Those officials not only remain in positions of power within the Russian government but have since been promoted.

The Magnitsky Act will ban from entry to the United States these corrupt Russian officials who were involved in the torture and murder in custody of Mr Magnitsky and who facilitated the fraud against the Hermitage Fund and the subsequent theft of $230 million from the Russian government. It will also freeze these officials’ accounts with U.S. banks and any assets they hold in the U.S.

Critically, the Magnitsky Act extends the visa and economic sanctions to those Russian officials who “participated in the efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky.” Among the new Russian officials likely to be affected by these sanctions are high-ranking officials including the Head of the Russian Investigative Committee Alexander Bastrykin; Chair of the Moscow City Court Olga Egorova; and Head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Information Department, Irina Dudukina.

• Alexander Bastrykin oversees the official Russian investigation into Magnitsky’s death. After eighteen months, this investigation has not identified a single suspect. No individual has been charged. Moreover, Mr Bastrykin refused to open an inquiry into Magnitsky’s torture in custody despite numerous applications from human rights activists and Magnitsky’s former colleagues.

• Olga Egorova oversees four district judges in Moscow who denied Magnitsky’s pleas in court about the cruel and torturous conditions he was subjected to in custody. These judges also ignored serial complaints by Magnitsky regarding his arrest and detention by the very Interior Ministry officers he had exposed for their roles in embezzling $230 million from the Russian government. These judges further sanctioned his detention based on a document from the Russian Federal Security Service that stated that Magnitsky applied for a UK visa, a statement that was shown to be false and refuted by the UK Embassy in Moscow. Ms Egorova found nothing wrong in those actions. Moreover, Ms Egorova went on record after Magnitsky’s death stating that Magnitsky had never requested to be released from custody due to his health despite the fact that official court records show that Magnitsky made repeated requests to the judges under Ms. Egorova’s oversight.

• Irina Dudukina is in charge of public information at the Russian Interior Ministry. Ms Dudukina has publicly denied that Interior Ministry officials had any knowledge of Magnitsky’s illness and requests for medical help despite the fact that the written rejections of medical care to Magnitsky were signed by senior Interior Ministry Investigator Oleg Silchenko. Furthermore, following Magnitsky’s torture and death, Ms. Dudukina has repeatedly stated that Magnitsky was a criminal, despite the fact that Magnitsky was never convicted by a Russian court and that he is no longer alive to defend himself from these charges.

Last year U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton called on Russia to “deliver justice” in the Magnitsky case. Instead, the Russian authorities have promoted the Interior Ministry officers implicated by Magnitsky in stealing $230 million of public funds. The officials who organized his arrest and persecution received top state honors on the first anniversary of Magnitsky’s death in November 2010.

Remarks by Congressman McGovern:
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