Last month, Rep. James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2011.” Two other Democrats and four Republican members co-sponsored the bill. It’s now pending before the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Financial Services.
Magnitsky was a lawyer in Moscow for William Browder’s Hermitage Capital Management, once the biggest foreign investor in Russia.
In 2005, the Russian government banned Browder from the country. Two years later, police and agents from the Ministry of the Interior raided Hermitage’s offices and those of its lawyers. They hauled away corporate documents and seals that were later used to defraud the Russian government out of a $230 million tax refund.
It was an outrageous theft. But what followed was worse.
Hermitage’s lawyer Magnitsky stayed in Moscow, out in the open, fighting what had happened. He was soon jailed, and eleven months later he died in prison. While locked up, he was denied family visits and medical care, his jail cells were often overcrowded, freezing, and filthy — one had ankle-deep sewage. The conditions finally killed him. He was 37 when he died.
H.R.1575 would ban from the United States anyone involved in Magnitsky’s death or the looting of Hermitage Capital Management, as well as their spouses, children, and parents. And it would freeze the assets of those who’ve handled any of the looted funds.
Browder keeps pressing for justice. In 2009, he wrote an essay for Foreign Policy Magazine called “They Killed My Lawyer.” It began this way:
Sergei Magnitsky was our attorney, and friend, who died under excruciating circumstances in a Moscow pre-trial detention center on Nov. 16, 2009. His story is one of extraordinary bravery and heroism, and ultimately tragedy. It is also a story about how Stalinism and the gulags are alive and well in Russia today.
Others created a series of videos about Magnitsky’s death and those who may be responsible. The videos are called The Russian Untouchables.
This weekend, Russian authorities said they plan to charge Browder with tax evasion. It’s a possible step toward requesting his extradition from the U.K., a Russian official told Bloomberg.
But Browder said on Monday: “We have been fighting for the last year and a half to sanction and prosecute the officers who killed [Sergei] and this latest action is a clear retaliation against us for doing so.