US lawmakers target Russians in lawyer's death
Two US lawmakers unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would impose a visa ban and asset freeze on any Russian officials tied to the death of a lawyer who perished in prison last year.
Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer working for investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, died in Moscow's notorious Matrosskayha Tishina prison hospital in November 2009 while awaiting trial for tax fraud.
"The leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia. It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States," Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said in a statement.
"We can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country," said Cardin, who had pushed a visa ban in April for 60 Russian officials tied to the case.
The legislation pushed by Cardin and Democratic Representative James McGovern would forbid US visas being issued to individuals "engaged in any act" instrumental in causing the lawyer's death, and those who conspired to commit tax fraud targeting Magnitsky's former employer, Hermitage Capital Management.
It would also affect the spouses, children and parents of those individuals, according to a summary of the bill.
The sanctions, which could be waived by US authorities, would only expire when the US Departments of State and Treasury certify that Russia has conducted a full and fair probe into the case and brought those responsible to justice, and moved to bring its criminal and penal system in line with global standards.
Magnitsky had repeatedly complained of unsanitary conditions and of being denied medical treatment in jail, and Russia's top human rights official in May 2010 called his treatment "close to torture."
Rights activists say corrupt Russian judges and prosecutors often keep such suspects in overcrowded and virus-plagued jails to pressure them into signing over their property in business disputes.
"The death of this courageous whistleblower in a Russian prison is the consequence of an abysmal prison system and corruption aimed at defrauding the Russian Treasury of billions," said McGovern.
© 2010 AFP