Prosecuting the Dead: Part II


JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law says the enactment of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act will be an important practical and symbolic act showing that the US government acknowledges the long slide of the Russian people back into anarchy and lawlessness…

Russia has attempted to cover up, gloss over and sweep under the rug the fact that they seized a young Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky off the street, tortured him in a year-long detention without a hearing or trial and allowed him to languish and die in prison, all for calling the Russian government out on a vast tax fraud scheme in the amount of over $250 million.

Over these past few years, the Russian government has gone after Magnitsky’s former employer, Hermitage Fund, his boss, William Browder and even his mother in attempts to bring silence to a growing call for justice by the international community. Futile gestures and “investigations” have led to no real findings of fact nor an open hearing on those facts to determine accountability. Time and time again they have concluded no real harm and have tried to drop the case.

Last time I wrote for JURIST I talked about Russian interest in and attempts to prosecute the long dead Sergei Magnitsky — a legal practice that has not been attempted for decades, even centuries. As I noted, even Joseph Stalin refused such a practice, yet the idea appears to have merit in the era of Vladimir Putin. Stalin had a practical side and would have considered it a waste of time. That op-ed caused quite the discussion among the academy because the practice and the jurisprudential logic for such an act is both long gone and absurd.

The US Congress is getting ready to consider the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act. In the Senate, the Foreign Relation Committee is almost ready to vote on this act, which has dozens of sponsors. Key members of Congress on the other side of Capitol Hill are already lining up to assist in moving this bill along. On April 19, Representative James McGovern and a group of other House members submitted the new Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which has roughly the same basic provisions as the Senate bill. Among the sponsors are Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representatives Royce, Smith, Wolf, Levin, Rangel and others. The bill is generally bipartisan with only the concerns of the State Department slowing things down. The enactment of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act will be an important practical and symbolic act showing that the US government acknowledges the long slide of the Russian people back into anarchy and lawlessness. Gangsters now rule Russia. At least Boris Yeltsin and his henchmen had fun during those goofy, alcohol sodden days. The grim-faced cynicism of the Putin era augurs poorly for the future of Russia.

Meanwhile, Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Natalia Magnitskaya, filed another complaint over the “acquittal” of one of the doctors that “cared” for Sergei. She declared in her complaint filed with the Russian Investigative Committee:

Investigators have covered up the cruel repression of my son for his stance against corrupt officials whom he had exposed acting as part of a criminal conspiracy through which they for many years have been stealing billions of rubles from the Russian budget.The investigation has been used to deflect attention from my son’s politically motivated persecution. The officials exposed by him in massive budget thefts, and who persecuted and killed him, remain free and live in luxury created with illicit proceeds.
The case against the deceased Sergei Magnitsky continues … more to follow.

David Crane is a Professor of Practice at Syracuse University College of Law. He teaches international criminal law, international humanitarian law and national security law. He was the founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone from 2001-2005. Crane served over 30 years in the US federal government, holding numerous key managerial positions, also serving as the Waldemar A. Solf Professor of International Law at the US Army Judge Advocate General’s School.

Suggested citation: David Crane, Prosecuting the Dead: Part II, JURIST – Forum, Apr. 21, 2012, http://jurist.org/forum/2012/04/david-crane-magnitsky.php.
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