Russian officials implicated in the prosecution and death of corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky could soon face new European sanctions on their travel and financial assets.
U.S. lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the Magnitsky Act in December 2012, which placed visa and asset bans on 18 Russian officials either involved in Magnitsky’s case or accused of human rights abuses.
Magnitsky died in prison in 2009 after uncovering a $230 million tax fraud by Kremlin authorities and was found guilty of tax evasion last year—a posthumous conviction that was widely condemned by human rights advocates.
European governments are now taking steps toward implementing similar sanctions in their own countries.
The Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) passed a resolution by a wide margin last week urging Russian officials to fully investigate Magnitsky’s death. It directed member governments to enact "targeted sanctions" if Russia fails to respond adequately.
Immigration authorities in the United Kingdom have also acknowledged those linked to the Magnitsky case in their visa approval instructions.
A PACE statement said parliamentarians were "appalled" by Magnitsky’s death and "by the fact that none of the persons responsible have yet been punished."
Elena Servettaz, a Russian-French journalist who has closely followed the European push to adopt a Magnitsky law, said in an email that the passage of the PACE resolution was promising even though it is not binding.
"It’s true that PACE voting results cannot force national Parliaments to act," she said. "However, it sends an extremely strong signal that parliamentarians, the elected officials, once again showed how much they fully support Magnitsky sanctions in Europe."
Servettaz noted that the PACE resolution also approved an independent report authored by Swiss representative Andreas Gross on the Magnitsky case and other medical reports about his death. Forensic reports found that Magnitsky suffered from pancreatitis and required surgery but was denied medical treatment in a Russian prison.
Magnitsky was first detained in October 2008 by some of the same officials he had implicated in the tax fraud. He was reportedly kept in squalid conditions and denied medical care.
He died in November 2009 after an alleged beating by riot guards with rubber batons.
Servettaz said Russian officials accused of human rights violations like to live in Europe and send their kids to school there, making a Magnitsky law crucial for the region.
For example, Russian child rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov—the most aggressive promoter of a widely criticized ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children—sent his oldest child to attend private schools in England and America. A magazine spread /9/">depicted Astakhov spending summers with his family at luxurious resorts in France.
Mikhail Lesin, a top Russian state media manager who spearheaded the closings of independent television channels in the early 2000s, reportedly owns a $2.7 million estate in Finland.
Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister and close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, also owns large homes in Moscow, London, and Austria, according to government disclosures. He has been accused of corrupt business dealings that enabled his family trust to earn of tens of millions dollars through investments made by some of the country’s most powerful tycoons.
Servettaz said European politicians are increasingly concerned about the presence of Russian officials in the region.
"European elected officials, who want to have similar measures as in the United States, will not speak about stopping business with Russia, but they also don’t want to have dirty money inside their countries," she said.
As Europe considers its own Magnitsky law, efforts to expand the U.S. list of sanctioned individuals have stalled.
The Obama administration surprised some lawmakers and human rights activists by not adding new names to the list in an annual report on the Magnitsky Act last year.
Administration officials initially expressed lukewarm support for the act before its passage in 2012. Diplomats at the time were attempting to improve U.S.-Russian cooperation on issues such as the Syrian civil war and Iran.
Sens. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) responded last month to the administration’s decision not to add names to the Magnitsky list by submitting their own names for approval. They specifically mentioned Alexander Bastrykin, former chairman of Russia’s Investigative Committee, and alleged crime kingpin Dmitry Klyuev—both individuals who were already deemed eligible for the list, according to reports.
The administration must respond in 120 days to the request, which was also signed by Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D., Md.).
A State Department official told the Washington Free Beacon on background that it has received the congressional inquiry and is continuing to work with the Treasury Department to determine whether new individuals will be sanctioned.
"While we can’t speak to the timing of any additional designations—which are not required to occur at the same time as the annual report—the administration is determined to fully implement the act by making further designations as appropriate," the official said.
Servettaz said Russian non-government organizations (NGOs) support adding new names to the U.S. Magnitsky list.
"They were calling to have more names in the list," such as Bastrykin and Lesin, she said.
Cardin and McCain also introduced the Global Human Rights Accountability Act last month, which would extend visa and asset bans to any foreign persons designated as human rights violators.