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Russia slams proposed US sanctions over lawyer death

Russia reacted angrily on Friday to a bill proposed by US lawmakers that would impose a visa ban on all officials linked to the death of a lawyer in a Moscow prison hospital last year.

The bill proposed Wednesday by a Democratic senator and representative “goes beyond the realm of the norms of elementary decency,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer working for investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, died in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina prison hospital in November 2009 while awaiting trial for tax fraud.

He complained of filthy conditions, cold, hunger and a lack of treatment for a kidney problem.

The wave of public outrage at his death, which was officially recorded as from a heart attack, prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to order an investigation, which has so far prompted no criminal charges.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Democratic Representative James McGovern proposed a visa ban for those “engaged in any act” that contributed to Magnitsky’s death. The bill included officials’ family members.

It also called for sanctions against those who conspired to commit tax fraud targeting Hermitage Capital Management.

While acknowledging that Magnitsky’s death was “a tragedy,” the Russian foreign ministry called the bill “regrettable.”

“The circumstances under which he died are the subject of a serious investigation. To make this into a political show is simply contemptible,” it said.

The sanctions, which could be waived by US authorities, would only expire when the US government certifies that Russia has conducted a full probe and punished those guilty of Magnitsky’s death.