An updated bill imposing a visa ban and asset freeze on Russian officials allegedly linked to the death in custody of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, as well as on “individuals responsible for other gross violations of human rights” in Russia has been introduced in the U.S. Congress.
Magnitsky, who worked for Hermitage Capital, a British investment fund, died in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow in November 2009, almost a year after being arrested on tax evasion charges. He suffered from untreated pancreatitis and gallstones. Two former prison doctors have been charged with negligence in connection with his death, but a criminal case against one of them was recently dropped.
Just days before his arrest, Magnitsky claimed to have uncovered a massive fraud in which Moscow tax and police officials had allegedly embezzled $230 million in tax rebates by taking over Hermitage subsidiaries and using them to claim tax rebates. His supporters say the legal case investigators launched against him was a means for the same security officials he had accused to muzzle him and stop his activities.
The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission co-chairman Jim McGovern. It is designed to “end the impunity for those responsible for this crime, while also holding accountable individuals responsible for other gross violations of human rights against people seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian officials or to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms,” the commission said in a statement.
The bill is an updated version of a previous legislation, introduced by McGovern and another Tom Lantos commission co-chairman, Frank Wolf, in 2011, the statement said. A similar bill has been to introduced the U.S. Senate by Senator Ben Cardin last May.
The proposed U.S. legislation has sparked an angry reaction from the Russian authorities. Speaking at a news conference after a Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Washington earlier this month, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the bill as "anti-Russian" and an attempt at "meddling" in Russia's internal affairs.
The Obama administration has been opposed to the bill, saying there was no need to pass special legislation to ban Russian officials allegedly linked to Magnitsky’s death from entering the United States.