European Parliament Recommends Magnitsky Sanctions

The European Parliament recommended on Tuesday that the Council of the European Union impose sanctions against Russian officials involved in the incarceration of Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention in 2009.

“The report [recommending sanctions] has been approved,” Kristina Ojuland, a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the third biggest group in the European Parliament, told RIA Novosti.

Ojuland, who is the ALDE spokeswoman on Russia and the rapporteur on the Magnitsky Law, spearheaded the drive to have the Council impose visa restrictions on Russian officials included in the so-called Magnitsky List

The parliament debated her report on Monday evening. It had earlier been approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Russia’s EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov warned that EU passage of the sanctions would harm relations with Russia and expressed the hope that “reason prevails.”

The 37-year-old Magnitsky, an auditor working for Hermitage Capital, a UK-based fund with major investments in Russia, was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, just days after accusing police investigators and tax officials of involvement in a $230-million tax refund fraud. He died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.

A probe into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment. Rights activists pointed to multiple violations of the lawyer’s rights during his arrest and detention, including signs that he was beaten by prison guards hours before his death.

In the United States, the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act with amendments seeks to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials allegedly involved in the torture and death of the Russian anti-corruption lawyer, as well as in other gross human rights abuses in Russia.

The U.S. State Department imposed visa bans in July 2011 on several dozen Russian officials in connection to the Magnitsky case. In response, Russia has imposed travel bans on several U.S. officials.

An analyst contacted by RIA Novosti was skeptical that the Council of the European Union would approve sanctions.

“Although it’s impossible to rule out sanctions entirely, in principle the EU Council is more moderate than the European Parliament, which is by definition subject to populist influences,” said the head of the Russian International Affairs Council, Andrei Kortunov.

But even if the Council rejects sanctions, the trend is worrisome, he said.

“That applies to the Magnitsky List, to the outlook for cooperation in energy, to the inability to sign a new treaty between Russia and the EU,” he said.

“The negative factors are piling up, and unfortunately that accumulation is not being offset by any positive achievements.”

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