May bans 60 Russians over corruption scandal

The Sunday Times

Downing Street is facing a diplomatic row with the Kremlin after blacklisting 60 Russian intelligence officers and top officials linked to a corruption scandal. The home secretary, Theresa May, has sent the British embassy in Moscow names of the officials, including judges, intelligence officers and prosecutors, implicated in the torture and death of a young lawyer.

Sergei Magnitsky, 37, was beaten and died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after uncovering a corruption scheme involving tax officials and police.

The ban on officials entering Britain will anger the Kremlin when relations were starting to thaw. Ties have been strained since the radioactive poisoning of the former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London six years ago.

This weekend, Sergei Markov, a former adviser to President Vladimir Putin, threatened reprisals. “Russia will never recognise such a situation and will reply. That means that those officials who took part in making the decision to restrict the rights of officials to travel will have their own rights restricted,” he said.

A similar move by the United States last year provoked tit-for-tat retaliation by the Kremlin which banned some American officials from visiting the country.

Details of the blacklist have been disclosed by the immigration minister, Damian Green, in a letter to a Tory MP. Green said a list of 60 officials, including prosecutors, judges, tax inspectors, police and prison chiefs, compiled by an American congressional committee, had been sent to the British embassy in Moscow. “[It] will be considered if an entry clearance application is received from any of the named individuals,” Green wrote.

The minister said that the British government “was committed to applying the power contained in the immigration rules to refuse entry to those who have committed human rights abuses.

“It is vitally important that the Russian government ensures that justice is achieved in the Magnitsky case.”

The Magnitsky case has become a cause célèbre in Russia. He was a dogged lawyer who represented Hermitage Capital Management, an American hedge fund with offices in Moscow. In 2008 he discovered that the Russian authorities, including police and tax officials, had perpetrated a complex tax refund fraud. They had used forged Hermitage documents to transfer $230m (£145m) of state money to a criminal gang.

Rather than thanking Magnitsky, the authorities accused him of orchestrating the fraud himself and arrested him. After almost a year’s detention, during which he was beaten and repeatedly denied medical treatment, he died in his jail cell.

May’s decision was welcomed by Dominic Raab, the MP whose letter to the home secretary prompted the disclosure: “This is an important British step in the international campaign to prevent the persecutors of Russian dissident Sergei Magnitsky from waltzing into the UK or buying up property with their blood money.”
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