More Russians need to hurt over dead lawyer: McCain
US Senator John McCain Thursday slammed a Russian court's conviction of dead lawyer Sergei Magnitsky for tax evasion, angrily saying the US needed to make more Russians "feel some pain."
And he took issue with the US administration for its low-key reaction to the guilty verdict, saying Washington should be appalled by the court’s decision.
“Does that remind you of the bad old days of the Soviet Union when we convict dead people?” McCain asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Doesn’t that appall you… Isn’t that outrageous that a man we know was tortured to death by the Russian authorities” was found guilty, he asked.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier denounced the guilty verdict, saying the US was “disappointed by the unprecedented posthumous criminal conviction against Sergei Magnitsky.”
“The trial was a discredit to the efforts of those who continue to seek justice in his case,” she said.
Magnitsky was convicted by the Moscow court along with his former boss, the US-born British citizen William Browder, the head of the Hermitage Capital investment fund, who was sentenced in absentia to nine years in a prison colony.
Magnitsky had accused Russian interior ministry officials of organizing a $235 million tax scam against Hermitage Capital, but was then charged with the very crimes he claimed to have uncovered.
He was placed under pre-trial detention in 2008 and died of untreated illnesses less than a year later at the age of 37.
The official cause of death was heart failure along with a number of health conditions, but rights activists who have investigated his death believe he was tortured after blowing the whistle on the fraud.
Former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland agreed with McCain as she appeared before US lawmakers for her nomination hearing to be the next assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs.
“It’s a travesty of justice when one is putting energy into convicting a dead man rather than finding out who was responsible for his murder,” Nuland said.
Russia has not convicted anyone over his death and has closed the investigation.
McCain was one of the driving forces behind a US law which in April barred 16 Russians allegedly linked to the lawyer’s death from travelling to the United States or holding assets here.
But he said he was incensed that “it goes almost unremarked by the administration when they try and convict a dead man.”
“How could we get tougher” on Russia,” McCain asked the committee due to confirm Nuland’s nomination.
“You know one way we could get tougher is expand the scope of the Magnitsky act and make some more Russians feel some pain.
“Obviously they didn’t react well, or they didn’t like the fact, that we passed the Magnitsky act.”
Nuland pledged that the State Department was already examining how to expand the list of names, which includes Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov.