Magnitsky Law Saga
U.S. Issues Penalties Against Russians for Rights Violations - NYTimes.com
U.S. Penalizes Russians for Human Rights Violations
By PETER BAKER
Published: April 12, 2013
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday imposed sanctions on about two dozen Russians for human rights violations under a new
law that has soured relations with Moscow, but it avoided targeting many high-level figures in President Vladimir V. Putin’s government.
Russian Judge Delays Trial of Dead Lawyer (March 12, 2013)
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The administration identified 18 Russians on an unclassified list of those who will be barred from traveling to the United States and
have their assets here frozen. All but two of them are tied to the death of a lawyer, Sergei L. Magnitsky, who was investigating official
corruption only to be arrested and die in custody. Another smaller group is included on a classified list, officials said.
The administration was informing the Russian government and Congress about its decisions on Friday. Under the human rights law passed
in December, the administration had until Saturday to name officials to be penalized. But the timing is awkward, with the moves coming
just days before President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, plans to travel to Moscow to explore next steps in
a relationship that has turned rocky.
The pending sanctions have irritated the Russian government, which responded to the passage of the original law by blocking Americans
from adopting Russian orphans. Administration officials are bracing for further retaliation with the release of the list, and they recognized
that it would complicate Mr. Donilon’s visit. But they decided to proceed with the trip anyway because Mr. Obama is due to meet with
Mr. Putin on the sidelines of an economic summit meeting in Northern Ireland in June and then travel to Russia in September.
“We will respond to it, and the American side knows it,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said at a news conference on
Friday during a visit to Switzerland. “The timing is bad.” The head of an international affairs committee in the Russian Parliament
told a Russian newspaper that Moscow’s response would be “commensurate.”
Still, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Mr. Putin, was quoted by Interfax, a Russian news agency, before the release of the list as
saying that it would result in “negative developments,” but added that the relationship was multifaceted and that there were still “a
lot of prospects for further developments.”
The list disappointed lawmakers and human rights activists who pressed the administration to apply the new law aggressively. Representative
James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped pass the law, named for Mr. Magnitsky, had sent the administration a list of 280
Russians compiled by Mr. Magnitsky’s family for possible sanctions, including senior officials like Yuri Y. Chaika, the country’s general
Human rights activists said that the law should be applied beyond Mr. Magnitsky’s case to cover a wide array of infamous episodes. Among
those who should be on any list of human rights violators in Russia, they argued, were Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, who has
been accused of widespread abuses, and Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, the head of the country’s investigative committee, who was reported to
have taken a journalist to a forest and threatened his life after a critical article was published.
Mr. Chaika, Mr. Kadyrov and Mr. Bastrykin were not on the unclassified list. It was not immediately clear if they were on the classified
list. The unclassified list included 16 investigators, tax officials, judges and prison supervisors connected to Mr. Magnitsky’s case.
The other two were Chechens tied to prominent murders. One, Lecha Bogatirov, has been connected by investigators to the shooting death
of Umar Israilov, a critic of Mr. Kadyrov, on the streets of Vienna in 2009. The other, Kazbek Dukuzov, has been accused of murdering
the American journalist Paul Klebnikov in Moscow in 2004.
Lawmakers like Mr. McGovern wanted the administration to apply the sanctions to anyone about whom there was “credible information” on
human rights violations.
But the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control required a
higher degree of evidence, because it will have to justify depriving people of financial assets if challenged
in court. Some human rights activists said Congress may have to re-examine the question and rewrite
the law to make sure it covers a wider range of figures.
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“While the list is timid and features more significant omissions than names,
I was assured by administration officials today that the investigation is ongoing and further additions
will be made to the list as new evidence comes to light,” Mr. McGovern said in a statement. “The fact
that a name is not on the list does not mean that person is innocent.”
David J. Kramer, the executive director of Freedom House, a nonprofit group
advocating human rights and democracy, said that he regretted that the list was not longer but that
he took heart from the fact that it did go beyond the Magnitsky case. “The key now is to keep this as
an ongoing process by which more names can be added,” he said.
The limited number placed on the list may temper Moscow’s response, although
the administration expects the Kremlin to be upset regardless. The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported
Friday that the Russian government had anticipated a larger list and had prepared a comparable list
of 104 Americans to be banned from the country.
Mr. Magnitsky was a lawyer for William F. Browder, once the largest portfolio
investor in Russia, who has been barred from the country and has become one of Mr. Putin’s biggest critics.
Mr. Magnitsky was jailed while investigating a scheme to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from
Mr. Browder’s firm. While in custody, according to his advocates, Mr. Magnitsky was beaten and denied
medical care. He died at age 37.
With Mr. Browder’s lobbying, Mr. Magnitsky’s case animated members of both
parties in Congress to pass the human rights law in his name at the same time lawmakers lifted cold-war-era
trade restrictions. In response, Russia not only barred American adoptions, but also refiled criminal
tax charges against Mr. Magnitsky and moved to put the dead man on trial.