Tuesday June 28, 2016
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by an Anglo-American investment fund operating in Moscow to investigate the apparent diversion of as much as $230 million in taxes due to the government. He became a whistleblower after discovering that the money had been stolen by the police, organized crime figures and other government officials. After he went to the authorities to complain he was unjustly imprisoned for eleven months. When he refused to recant he was both beaten and denied medical treatment to coerce him into cooperating, resulting in his death in jail at age 37 in November 2009. He has become something of a hero for those who have decried official corruption in Russia.
The Magnitsky case is of particular importance because both the European Union and the United States have initiated sanctions against the Russian officials who were allegedly involved. In the Magnitsky Act, sponsored by Russia-phobic Senator Ben Cardin and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the US asserted its willingness to punish foreign governments for violations of human rights. Russia reacted angrily, noting that the actions taken by its government internally, notably the operation of its judiciary, were being subjected to outside interference. It reciprocated with sanctions against US officials as well as by increasing pressure on foreign non-governmental pro-democracy groups operating in Russia.
Tension between Moscow and Washington increased considerably as a result and Congress will likely soon approve a so-called Global Magnitsky Act as part of the current defense appropriation bill. It expands the use of sanctions and other punitive measures against regimes guilty of egregious human rights abuses though it is unlikely to be applied to US friends like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is also sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and is clearly intended to intimidate Russia.