By Ariel Cohen | December 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm
Today, the lame-duck Senate is considering the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal Act of 2012. The bill’s language contains the language known as the Magnitsky Act, which for the first time punishes Russian officials implicated in serious human rights abuses.
The Magnitsky Act was named after Russian lawyer, anti-corruption crusader, and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who three years ago died in a Russian jail after being denied medical care and tortured. He could not have known that he would become a symbol of the struggle for human rights in Russia and that his name would be commemorated in an act of the U.S. Congress, making Russian President Vladimir Putin livid.
Magnitsky, who worked for Hermitage Capital, a large Western private equity fund, uncovered a brazen scheme by Russian police and tax officials to embezzle $230 million from the Russian Treasury. Sergei paid the ultimate price for his demands of government accountability. Two weeks ago, a key witness in a Swiss investigation linked to his case was found dead at a luxury estate in London. His autopsy was “inconclusive.”
Now, Congress is doing the right thing. The Magnitsky Act puts Russian officials who blatantly and systematically abuse human rights on a U.S. no-visa list and allows U.S. law enforcement to seize the grafters’ ill-gotten gains where the writ of American law applies. Other countries—including Canada, the Netherlands, and the EU—are in the process of drafting similar legislation.