Russian Delegation Travels to Strasbourg to Pressure MEPs to Drop Magnitsky Sanctions

December 13, 2010

The European Parliament is scheduled to vote this week to introduce visa bans and asset seizures against those Russian state officials who played a role in the murder in custody of Sergei Magnitsky or who carried out the $230 million fraud Magnitsky uncovered. The Resolution appears in the Annual Report of Human Rights in the World (2009).

The Resolution was approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 50-0 (with two abstentions) in mid-November and will go before the full European Parliament in its Plenary Session in Strasbourg on 14-15 December.

In response to the imminent threat of visa sanctions and asset seizures against certain of its officials within Europe, the Russian Duma sent a delegation to Strasbourg on 11 December where they will urgently lobby against the pending resolution. According to Andrei Klimov, Deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on International Affairs:

“Members of our delegation are going to use all available means, including formal and informal meetings with Members of the European Parliament, to try to convey to them the whole failure of one of the amendments to the draft report concerning the circumstances surrounding the death in jail of Sergei Magnitsky.”

The historic nature of the Magnitsky vote and the Russian Duma’s strong pressure on Members of the European Parliament has sparked a sweeping response from both inside and outside Russia to support the sanctions.

U.S. Senator John McCain, in a speech on Friday 10 December, said:
“Cases like [Magnitsky’s] make a mockery of the idea that Russia is governed by the rule of law … Congress should build on the legislation that Senator Ben Cardin and I introduced – which imposes sanctions and travel bans on those responsible for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky – and expand these measures to other Russian officials who are complicit in human rights violations. We should also block their families from traveling to, studying and vacationing in America – and we should encourage our European allies to do the same. This would be a good first step in imposing some very personal costs on the most corrupt officials.”

Boris Nemtsov, former First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, and leading Russian opposition candidate, wrote to Members of European Parliament to approve the sanctions on 10 December, urging them to approve the sanctions:
“It seems fairly obvious to most people around the world that Sergei Magnitsky will not get justice in Russia. So I call on you in the European Parliament to help bring some justice in the case of Sergei Magnitsky … Russian politicians did not do a single thing while Sergei was in prison … Yet they galvanized themselves in one day following a threat of being banned from travelling into Europe. I am very pleased to know that there will be a vote in the European Parliament on precisely this issue … This vote is not only about Sergei Magnitsky, but about humanity, rule of law, justice, freedom and human rights for all the people of Russia.”

Mikhail Kasyanov, former Prime Minister of Russia, spoke on 8 December 2010 regarding the upcoming vote in Strasbourg and urged the Members of the European Parliament to ensure that Russia abides by its international human rights treaty obligations:
“[There is an] initiative in connection with the death of Sergei Magnitsky … I believe that the democratic forces, the political forces in the European Union who want to see Russia as a normal democratic country, should demand from the Russian authorities the execution of normal democratic laws. Human rights are not an internal affair of the country. We have signed an international agreement … Russia must automatically abide by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

Ludmila Alekseeva, Chairman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human rights organization, and recipient of the European Parliament’s 2009 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, wrote:
“The Russian side has not taken any real steps to investigate the circumstances of the arrest, detention and death of Magnitsky … We appeal to other states, for which we hope ‘human rights’ are not empty words … We appeal to the leadership of the European Union to deny entry to those officials who appear on the list of Senator Cardin [responsible for the torture and death of Magnitsky and the fraud he uncovered].”

Alexei Navalny, a leading anti corruption activist in Russia, wrote on 12 December to the Members of the European Parliament and urged them to resist the aggressive lobbying of the Russian state:
“You are being lobbied by Russian officials to oppose these sanctions. However, the vast majority of the Russian people favour these sanctions … The lobbying efforts against the sanctions are not on behalf of the Russian people … This lobbying is on behalf of the personal interests of the officials lobbying you and on behalf of scores of other officials who are terrified that these sanctions if adopted could be expanded to include other cases involving corrupt officials.”

Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS, the London-based anti-torture organization that seeks to hold accountable the governments and individuals who perpetrate torture, wrote to the membership of the European Parliament on 10 December:
“Over one year since Mr. Magnitsky’s death in pre-trial detention, there has been a failure to carry out a full, effective and impartial investigation into the allegations of wrong-doing, including the defrauding of the state budget and the ill-treatment and torture of Mr. Magnitsky …[Passing the sanctions] would send an important signal to the Russian Federation and the International Community as a whole that those accused of torture and related crimes must be held to account and that the EU does not tolerate impunity for such crimes.”

REDRESS also pointed out that not approving the sanctions would be equivalent to tolerating torture in the European Union and further reminded the Members of the European Parliament of the obligations of EU countries to prosecute, under Article 5(2) of the UN Convention Against Torture, individuals guilty of human rights violations should such individuals be found in their member countries.

David J. Kramer, Executive Director of Freedom House, the US-based organization monitoring human rights around the world, appealed to the European Parliament to approve the sanctions, writing on 7 December:
“The lack of accountability and justice in Russia compels those of us in Europe, Canada and the United States to do what we can to underscore that such behaviour is simply unacceptable. It runs counter to the norms and standards embodied in the Helsinki Final Act and membership in the Council of Europe. That is why [Freedom House] joins with Russian human rights activists in urging to you stand on the side of rule of law, justice and human rights and vote in favour of the resolution imposing visa and economic sanctions against those state officials in Russia involved in Sergei Magnitsky’s murder.”

TAGLaw, a global alliance of 147 law firms from more than 80 countries representing nearly 7,700 lawyers, wrote directly to President Medvedev on 12 December in advance of the European Parliament vote:
“TAGLaw is deeply concerned that the Russian State not only allowed [Magnitsky’s torture and death] to occur, but that it is not investigating whether Mr. Magnitsky was falsely detained and intentionally tortured to death to prevent him from testifying against Ministry of Interior Officers … We cannot recommend that our worldwide members or their tens of thousands of clients consider investing in Russian operations without taking note of the almost total lack of legal protection and absence of effective restraints on government officials who are apparently free to act to the detriment of investors and their Russian investments.”

Russia is a signatory to the European Human Rights Convention that guarantees right to life (Article 2) and prohibits torture and inhumane treatment (Article 3). The ratification of this convention was a condition of Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe. Russia is also bound by the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

Sergei Magnitsky (8 April 1972 – 16 November 2009), an outside lawyer for the Hermitage Fund, discovered that Russian police were involved in stealing his client’s investment companies and subsequently embezzling $230 million of public funds through the largest tax refund fraud in Russian history. Magnitsky testified against the state officials involved, and in retribution these officials arrested him on false pretexts, detained him for 12 months without trial and tortured him to withdraw his testimony. Despite the systematic physical and psychological torture he endured, Magnitsky refused to change his testimony. He died on 16 November 2009 at the age of 37. He is survived by his mother, his wife and two children.

Additional Statements by European Officials on Sergei Magnitsky

Statement on Sergei Magnitsky by President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek:

“Sergey Magnitsky was a brave man, who in his fight against corruption was unjustifiably imprisoned under ruthless conditions and then died in jail without receiving appropriate medical care. This is a shocking example showing that people fighting against corruption in Russia can feel neither safe nor protected. It is a paradox, because the lawyer Sergey Magnitsky believed very strongly in justice.

His death highlighted the serious shortcomings of the prison and judicial system in Russia and the prevailing atmosphere of impunity. I raised the case of Sergey Magnitsky’s death during my meeting with President Medvedev in June in Moscow”

See full text:

Statement on Sergei Magnitsky by the European Commission:

“The death of Mr Magnitsky is unfortunately not a isolated case. It should be viewed in context of the overall situation of, to use the President words, “legal nihilism” in the Russian Federation…

We have to admit of course that despite the President’s rhetoric and despite the continuous domestic as well as international pressure, until date not one person has been officially charged with a crime in this case. Also, no further inquiries have been made into the corruption case that Mr Magnistky was working on prior to his death. The European Home Affairs Commissioner Malmström expressed in May 2010, at a meeting in Kazan, serious concerns to Russian Interior Minister Nurgaliyev and Justice Minister Konovalov with regard to Moscow’s failure to investigate Interior Ministry officials involved in a $230 million corruption case exposed by Sergei Magnitsky.

Today, the Magnitsky case remains an important litmus test of whether President Medvedev is serious in his recent calls for modernization and rule-of-law in Russia. In view of this, the Commission will continue raising this and other similar cases in its contacts with Russia at various levels, including the highest, and calling for an effective and impartial investigation.”

See full text:


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