EU mulls sanctions against RF officials over Magnitsky case

LONDON, August 11 (Itar-Tass) — The European Union cannot exclude the possible introduction of punitive measures against a number of Russian citizens in connection with the Magnitsky case, spokesman for the European External Action Service (EEAS) Michael Mann has said.

If the Russian authorities fail to conduct an adequate investigation into the causes and circumstances of the death of Magnitsky, taking steps with regard to Russian officials cannot be excluded, he noted.

Last month, the US Department of State imposed visa sanctions against Russian citizens figuring in the so-called “Magnitsky list.” Michael Mann made it clear on Thursday that it is possible that the European Union can also take several measures in connection with the case, unless a due investigation of the case is conducted and those responsible for the law violations punished.

“It is of great importance for Russia’s future that this case is investigated properly by the Russian judicial authorities, and that those responsible for any wrongdoing are brought to justice,” EEAS spokesman Michael Mann said in a written statement to EUobserver. “Should this not take place, we cannot exclude further reactions by the EU or its member states.”

The statement was sent in answer to questions if the EU will follow the US in imposing a visa ban on 60 Russian officials believed to have embezzled 160 million euros in tax money and killed Magnitsky when he exposed the scam.

The US took the step in July despite Russian threats of retaliation – Russian daily Kommersant on Wednesday (10 August) reported that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered his own blacklist of “several dozen” US officials.

The deadline for any EU reaction is late August when the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation is expected to complete its probe into the Magnitsky affair. The committee has so far named two prison doctors for giving him inadequate medical treatment. Magnitsky’s mother and his former employer, UK-based venture capitalist Bill Browder, see it as a bid to scapegoat junior officials while letting senior suspects, such as the head of the Moscow tax authority, Olga Stepanova, off the hook. Two recent developments augur badly for EU requests to see justice, according to EUobserver.

In July the interior ministry voided the findings of Medvedev’s Human Rights Council after it said ministry officials were guilty of stealing money and that Magnitsky was murdered in prison. Last week the ministry said it will prosecute the deceased lawyer for alleged tax evasion. The move is widely seen as a smear campaign. “The Russian government has shown no intention of prosecuting the real culprits at high levels in the interior ministry who tortured and killed Sergei Magnitsky. As a result, there has been a distinct shift in the attitude of the EU toward this case,” Browder noted. “Ultimately, the EU will follow the US in imposing visa sanctions and eventually both will freeze the assets of those people responsible.”

Magnitsky was a Firestone Duncan attorney representing a UK-based investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital Management on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and tax fraud. He was a specialist in civil law. Over the years of its operation, Hermitage had supplied information to the press on a number of occasions related to corporate and governmental misconduct in alleged corruption within state-owned Russian enterprises. Company co-founder Bill Browder was soon expelled from Russia as a national threat, though Browder himself has indicated that he represented only a threat “to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats,” believing that the ouster was conducted to leave his company open for exploitation. In November 2005, Browder arrived in Moscow to be told his visa had been annulled. He was deported the next day and has not seen his Moscow home for 10 years.

In June 4, 2007, Hermitage’s office was raided by the police. The offices of Firestone Duncan, Hermitage’s law firm, were also raided. In both cases, tax documents were stolen. In October 2007, Browder received word that one of the firms maintained in Moscow had a judgement against it for an alleged unpaid debt. This was the first Browder had heard of it, according to him.

Magnitsky was arrested and imprisoned at the Butyrka prison in Moscow in November 2008 after being accused of colluding with Hermitage. Held for 11 months without trial, he was, as reported by The Telegraph, “denied visits from his family” and “forced into increasingly squalid cells.” He developed gall stones, pancreatitis and calculous cholecystitis, for which he was given inadequate medical treatment during his incarceration. Surgery was ordered in June, but never performed; detention centre chief Ivan P. Prokopenko later indicated that he “…did not consider Magnitsky sick…Prisoners often try to pass themselves off as sick, in order to get better conditions.”

On November 16, eight days before he would have had to have been released if he were not brought to trial, Magnitsky died for reasons attributed first by prison officials as a “rupture to the abdominal membrane” and later to heart attack.

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