A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation that would sanction Russian officials involved in the 2009 death of a Russian lawyer who alleged that the government was involved in a tax fraud scheme.
The bill is a reaction to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, whose case has come to be seen as a symbol of corruption in the Russian legal system. Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by an American law firm and who worked for Hermitage Capital.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Magnitsky “blew the whistle on the largest known tax fraud in Russian history,” and named Russian officials involved in the plan to defraud Russia of about $230 million. Magnitsky was soon arrested, held in detention for almost a year with no trial, and died after suffering from untreated medical complications.
Cardin’s bill, which is sponsored by several Democrats and Republicans, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), would deny U.S. visas to the Russian officials involved in his death. It would also freeze the U.S.-held assets of these individuals.
“My legislation simply says if you commit gross violations of human rights, don’t expect to visit Disneyland, Aspen or South Beach and expect your accounts to be frozen if you bank with us,” Cardin said Thursday.
“Visas are privileges, not rights, and we must be willing to see beyond the veil of sovereignty that kleptocrats often hide behind,” he added. “They do this by using courts, prosecutors and police as instruments of advanced corporate raiding and hope outsiders are given pause by their official trappings of office and lack of criminal records.”
Cardin also charged that Russia has done nothing to further investigate Magnitsky’s death, and the bill essentially calls on the U.S. government to identify those involved.
Under the bill, S. 1039, the State Department would have to publish a list of Russian officials responsible for the death and abuse of Magnitsky, and then deny these officials U.S. visas. It would also require the Treasury Department to further investigate money-laundering related to the tax conspiracy Magnitsky identified, and freeze related assets in the U.S.
Other co-sponsors to the bill are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).