Russian election chief ‘privileged’ to be on U.S. blacklist

The head of Russia’s electoral commission has said he is privileged to be on a U.S. visa blacklist over the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Vladimir Churov told the Dozhd TV channel he was privileged to keep company with dozens of other senior Russian officials banned from entering the U.S., but denied any involvement in the arrest and death of Magnitsky, and the alleged cover up of the massive tax fraud he exposed.

“I hadn’t seen him, known, or heard of his story until after he died,” he said, adding he complied with Russian law in full, “otherwise any voter or political party representative would be able to take me to court.”

Yaroslav Ternovsky, a member of Russia’s Public Chamber, said Churov’s reaction was “right and proper.”

He said Churov, who once reportedly said his “first rule is that Putin is always right,” felt no wrongdoing, which “gave him the confidence to say so.”

“If it is a privilege to be on the list of murderers, there’s nothing left to comment on,” Svetlana Gannushkina of human rights group Civil Assistance told RIA Novosti.

In July, the U.S. State Department issued visa bans for some 60 Russian judges, investigators and tax officials connected to Magnitsky’s death. Dmitry Vyatkin, a ruling United Russia MP, dismissed the move as a ploy to divert Americans from their own problems. “I have the impression this is aimed at the American audience, at American voters,” Vyatkin told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Magnitsky was arrested and jailed without trial in November 2008, and died in police custody a year later after being denied medical care. The 37-year-old lawyer was working for Hermitage Capital Management, a British-based investment fund, when he accused tax and police officials of a $230 million tax scam.

In a report in July, the Kremlin’s rights body concluded the father-of-two suffered deliberate neglect and beatings before dying in his cell.

In August, prosecutors charged two prison physicians over the lawyer’s death, but rights activists have expressed fears the doctors might be scapegoats and were targeted to allow more senior figures to avoid prosecution.

Churov has been the target of frequent protests by civic right activists, who called for him to shave his beard off following a pledge he made in 2007, that he would do so if elections to parliament were unfair.

Speaking to Dozhd, Churov said he planned to observe the U.S. presidential elections next year but given the visa restrictions, he would only go at the “personal invitation” of Senator Benjamin Cardin, who proposed a similar bill, known as the Cardin list, late last year.

Ternovsky said such blacklists are often imposed “on an emotional level” and are an “attempt to sabotage Russia’s independent foreign policy position.”

“Such sanctions are harmful and do not answer the national interests of the United States or Russia,” he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has promised to respond to the imposition of the blacklist, but did not give any details.

Magnitsky’s death has highlighted the increasing number of fatalities involving remand prisoners in Russia. Over the past three weeks, there have been at least three prison deaths, one involving a former Yukos oil firm executive and another a Moscow headmaster.


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