Russian Officials on Magnitsky List ‘Keep Money in U.S.’

Some of the Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky keep their money on U.S. bank accounts, U.S. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the main sponsor of a bill that would penalize Russian officials for human rights violations, has said.

“We’ve had evidence that the people – some of the people involved in the Magnitsky tragedy –have had their money in U.S. banking accounts,” Cardin said on Wednesday during a conference in Washington entitled “Toward a Democratic Russia.”

“They don’t really want their money in rubles. They would like to have them in euros or dollars, and more recently I think dollars than euros,” he said.

Magnitsky, who worked Hermitage Capital, a British investment fund, was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, days after accusing police investigators in a $230 million tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.

A probe into his death revealed that the 37-year-old lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment. Rights activists pointed to multiple violations of his rights during his arrest and in detention, including signs that he was beaten by prison guards hours before his death.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved on Tuesday the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act sponsored by Cardin. The bill seeks to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s death, as well as in other human rights abuses in Russia.

Russia strongly opposes to the bill, saying it would be an unwarranted intrusion into its internal affairs.

Moscow expressed outrage on Wednesday over the U.S. Senate panel’s approval of the bill. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that there will be a “symmetrical response” from Russia if the bill is adopted, and that such a move would have an “extremely negative” effect of Russian-U.S. relations.

“[They have] an opportunity to weigh the consequences after all, so we urge our U.S. partners and U.S. lawmakers to do just that,” Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow.

The legislation has broad support in Congress, but the Obama administration does not look too enthusiastic about it, saying it is redundant as Washington has already imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials believed to be linked to Magnitsky’s death.

Cardin claimed on Wednesday the bill’s objective was to “help the Russian people.”

“It’s in our interest to get Russia to change. It’s not to penalize the perpetrators; that’s not our objective. Our objective is to get the type of changes in Russia that we think are important for the Russian people and for the international community,” he said.

The United States should “show leadership” in pushing Russia to punish those responsible for the lawyer’s death, he said.

“There are countries in Europe today that are watching what’s happening in the United States on the Magnitsky bill. They’re going to follow. They won’t lead, but they will follow,” he said.

Besides the United States, parliaments of several European countries, including the British and Irish legislations, moved to consider sanctions against Russians believed to have been involved in the lawyer’s death.

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