Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Cold war-style blacklists? Wide ripples from Russian lawyer's death in prison.

Two Russian generals have reportedly called off a US visit after senators asked for a review of their visa requests. A proposed Senate bill would restrict visas for 60 Russians allegedly linked to the case of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

By / Correspondent / November 12, 2011


Sergei Magnitsky was just one statistic among more than 4,000 people who die each year after being consigned to Russia's overcrowded and brutality-plagued prison system.

Skip to next paragraph

But the story of the dedicated corporate lawyer who died under suspicious circumstances in pretrial custody two years ago, after being arrested by the very police officers he had testified against in a major corruption case, has shocked the world and led to a wave of repercussions that could undo the tenuous "reset" that has thawed US-Russian relations since President Obama took office.

The US Senate is considering a bill that would impose visa restrictions and financial penalties on 60 Russians allegedly involved in Mr. Magnitsky's imprisonment and death, while the State Department has already put less sweeping measures in place. Russia has retaliated with its own list of 11 US citizens, mainly associated with the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, who may not enter Russia.

But as US and Russian officials ratchet up their rhetoric and exchange cold-war-style blacklists, many who are closely involved with the case say they don't want to see it become a new source of division, but rather hope for an outcome that establishes new standards of international accountability.

"This is not an anti-Russian campaign by any means," says Bill Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital, once Russia's largest investment fund, for whom Magnitsky was working at the time of his 2008 arrest.

Backlash already

The controversy may already be taking a toll at the nuts-and-bolts level of US-Russia relations.

Two Russian generals of the Interior Ministry, which oversees police and internal troops, have reportedly called off plans to attend a conference on intellectual property rights in Washington next week after two senators,  Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi and Benjamin Cardin (D) Maryland, urged the State Department to review their visa applications. The senators allege the two officers, Gen. Maj. Tatiana Gerasimova and Gen. Maj. Nikolai Shelepanov, were involved in the Interior Ministry's coverup of what happened to Magnitsky.

News agencies quoted The Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights, which organized the conference together with the US Justice Department, as saying it "had no indication that any of these officials were involved in the Magnitsky matter."

Mr. Browder's intense international lobbying efforts, aimed at forcing the Russian government to bring Magnitsky's alleged killers to justice, have been the driving force behind the sanctions announced in the United States, as well as a bill currently before the Canadian Parliament, and measures at various stages of development in several European countries.

Browder, once an active player in Russian financial circles and an early supporter of then-President Vladimir Putin, left the country in late 2005 and has since been banned from the country on "national security" grounds.

"This is an anti-impunity campaign to target the money and travel privileges of corrupt officials for the benefit of honest Russians," he says. "We have huge support among the Russian people for what we are doing."

As a lawyer working for Hermitage, Magnitsky uncovered what he later testified was a vast scam by top police officials to embezzle $230 million that Hermitage Fund companies had paid in corporate taxes in 2006. According to him, the corrupt cops used corporate seals and documents seized in a June 2007 raid on Hermitage's Moscow office to set up fake companies under the same names, which then applied for and received a full tax rebate.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story