Two Russian generals have called off plans to travel to Washington, according to the group that invited them, following a backlash over their alleged involvement in the case of a whistleblowing lawyer who died in a Moscow jail.
The lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died two years ago, but fallout from his death has reverberated in U.S.-Russian relations, with repeated allegations that officials were culpable in his death and later covered up their role. The allegations have fueled calls for accountability from rights groups and U.S. officials.
When word surfaced that two generals tied to the case were headed to Washington next week for a conference on intellectual property rights, a pair of U.S. senators balked, urging the State Department to reconsider allowing their entry to the country.
The Russians, though, have reportedly decided to cancel the trip.
Tom Thomson, the executive director of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights (CIPR), which had invited the generals, said in an interview that the group had been informed of the change in plans.
“No reasons were given,” Thomson said, “but they are not coming.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old tax lawyer, was arrested after accusing Russian tax and police officials of bilking the national treasury out of $230 million with a fraudulent tax-return scheme. He died in pretrial detention in November 2009, and after months of silence, a Russian rights panel that advises President Dmitry Medvedev concluded that government officials bore responsibility for his death. He had been denied medical treatment and, by some accounts, tortured.
The State Department this summer put dozens of Russian officials tied to the case on a visa blacklist, prompting outrage from Russia, as well as a retaliatory travel ban by Moscow on an unspecified number of Americans.
U.S. officials declined to say whether the generals who had planned to come to Washington, Nikolai Shelepanov and Tatiana Gerasimova, were on the blacklist.
But Hermitage Capital, the Western investment company Magnitsky was advising, said in a statement this week that Shelepanov and Gerasimova had been “overseeing the cover-up of Magnitsky’s wrongful arrest and torture, and of his testimonies implicating corrupt government officials.”
U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, pressing the State Department to review any visa applications submitted by the generals.
Thomson, the head of CIPR, said his group did due diligence on the Russians before talking to them about next week’s conference. There was no indication, he said, that they were subject to a travel ban.
“Quite obviously,” he said, “we would not have extended the invitation had there been any question on it.”
Russian authorities have lashed out repeatedly over what they deem U.S. interference in a domestic matter.
In July, after the U.S. travel ban was imposed, the Foreign Ministry said the actions of U.S. officials were “causing perplexity and concern.”
“The American side,” it said, “is well aware of efforts by the Russian authorities to investigate the Magnitsky tragedy fully and thoroughly.”