MEPs adopt ‘Magnitsky’ list visa ban

Sergei Magnitsky

Sergei Magnitsky [Firestone Duncan/Wikipedia]

The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday (2 April) establishing a list of Russian officials responsible for the death of a Russian attorney in prison. The ‘Magnitsky List” proposes an EU-wide visa ban and a freeze of EU assets of 32 Russian citizens.

The move by the European Parliament mirrors the Washington’s Magnitsky list of 16 Russian officials, who are prohibited from entering the United States. MEPs says that the list of 32 officials was established by independent investigations.

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian attorney working for a UK firm, accused of tax evasion and tax fraud. He died in police custody in 2009 after being repeatedly denied medical care and in effect subjected to what in most civilised countries would be considered torture.

Magnitsky’s main client was William Browder, a highly active American-born investor who complained loudly about management practices in the firms in which he invested. Browder was initially one of the biggest advocates of Vladimir Putin, but soon his activism got him in trouble and he was expelled from Russia.

His firms were raided and Magnitsky issued complaints against the raids. Soon Magnitsky was arrested and put in pre-trial detention where, for 12 months, investigators and prison officials pressured him to withdraw his complaint and to testify against Mr Browder, his client. When he refused to cooperate, he was transferred from one Moscow prison to another with worse conditions, denied medical care when he was in pain and, evidence suggests, tortured. He died on 16 November 2009.

Posthumous trial

Magnitsky’s death caused outrage in Russia and abroad, however, his investigators  were rewarded for their services and promoted to higher ranks. In 2012 the Russian police resubmitted charges of tax evasion against Magnitsky for a second trial, and a Moscow court found guilty Magnitsky on 11 July 2013 in the first posthumous trial in Russia.

“The arrest and subsequent death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky represent a well-documented and significant case of disrespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia,” the European Parliament said in its resolution.

“[They] have cast doubt on the independence and impartiality of its judicial institutions, and serve as a reminder of the many documented shortcomings in respect for the rule of law in Russia,” it said.

ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt said that his group had worked on this resolution for the last two years and its adoption in plenary was a sign of broad backing gained following the Crimea annexation. He called on the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to put this issue on the agenda of the next meeting of the foreign ministers and for member states to react quickly and adopt the list at EU level.

MEPs in fact expressed their regret that Ashton had not put this issue on the agenda in previous occasions, one such opportunity having been missed in October 2012. 

MEP Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE, Estonia), who is the Parliament’s rapporteur for this report, said that although Russian state media would probably try to portrait this resolution as anti-Russian, that it was “the exact opposite”.

“Remember that these people have misused their power and have been involved in stealing out of the pockets of honest Russian tax payers. As these people have not been brought to justice in Russia, we have the obligation to at least forbid their entrance to the EU and freeze their assets that are in our member states,” Ojuland said.

She concluded “Putin’s claim to protect the human rights of Russian abroad, and on Crimea, ring all the more empty when taking into account the blatant human rights and judicial abuses Russia’s own citizens are facing”. 

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