The enemy within

The Economist

MARTYRED human-rights activists; fatally brave journalists: Russia, alas, has plenty of other cases of violent death that are as deserving of outrage as Sergei Magnitsky’s. So the fuss over one lawyer’s demise might seem overdone. Yet there is something grimly instructive about Magnitsky’s story. In a stark, almost cartoonish way, it has demonstrated that Russia is run for the benefit of a ruling clique, rather than in the interests of its people. As this gruesome affair has degenerated from brutal tragedy to bleak farce, those interests have been relentlessly disregarded by officials, politicians and the courts.

To recap: Magnitsky worked for Hermitage Capital Management, once the biggest portfolio investor in Russia. Bill Browder, its boss, was a long-term and zealous fan of Vladimir Putin, even as the vices of Mr Putin’s rule became unignorable. That devotion did not help Mr Browder when, in 2005, one of his campaigns against corporate malfeasance in big Russian companies apparently irked someone important. Mr Browder was ejected, and his fund went with him. The broader benefit Hermitage brought to the Russian economy evidently mattered less than the threat his activism posed to the kleptocrats.

The ensuing attack on Hermitage eventually involved a huge fraud, by officials and police officers with the connivance of the courts, which used the wreckage of the firm to purloin a tax refund of $230m from the Russian exchequer. Magnitsky blew the whistle on this scam. He was arrested, jailed for a year in dreadful conditions, and in 2009 died of neglect and abuse. No one has been convicted as a result of his death; some of those allegedly involved in the fraud have been awarded medals. The message could not be clearer: notwithstanding a recent, selective push against corruption, in Mr Putin’s system stealing from the Russian people is often forgivable. Exposing such theft, on the other hand, can be suicidal.

The posthumous part of the story has, for Russia, been just as self-mutilating. Last year the United States passed the Magnitsky act, under which visa bans and asset freezes can be imposed on anyone implicated in the lawyer’s persecution. Part of Russia’s vindictive response was to ban the adoption of Russian orphans by American families. But, as with the authorities’ actions at every stage of this scandal, the measure is primarily vengeance against their own citizens—in this case, Russian children. More than 60,000 have been adopted by Americans over the past two decades; quite a few who found new families were disabled. More such children are now destined to languish in Russian orphanages.

The trial

Finally, to the bizarre (even for Russia), ghoulish climax of the saga. In a clumsy bid to discredit the American law named for him, Mr Putin’s henchmen are now putting Magnitsky on trial (along, in absentia, with Mr Browder), for a tax offence supposedly committed over a decade ago—and despite the fact that the lawyer is long dead. It is a surreal but spiteful gesture, which should remove any vestige of faith that inattentive observers, or investors, might still have in Russian justice.

Designed to deter foreign criticism of Mr Putin’s regime, the Magnitsky trial should instead redouble it. But the real lesson is for Russians. Those who remain content with Putinism should heed it, and see that, when the interests of the powerful are at stake, their rulers have no compunction about compromising their economic and political well-being. займ срочно без отказов и проверок buy over the counter medicines female wrestling https://zp-pdl.com/get-a-next-business-day-payday-loan.php https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php payday loan

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