MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday bristling at reports that the United States had put a number of Russian officials on a visa blacklist because they have been linked to the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The Foreign Ministry called the blacklist an irritant that could threaten the reset of relations between the two countries and said unfriendly steps would not go unanswered.
(Hermitage Capital Management/AFP/Getty Images) - Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in custody in 2009 after accusing tax and police officials of a tax fraud scheme.
“Attempts to interfere in the course of the investigation and pressure judicial bodies are absolutely impermissible,” it said.
“The American side is well aware of efforts by the Russian authorities to investigate the Magnitsky tragedy fully and thoroughly. In this regard, the political games in which the U.S. executive power is becoming entangled are causing perplexity and concern.”
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer for Hermitage Capital, died in pretrial detention in 2009 after spending nearly a year in prison. He was arrested after he filed complaints against tax and police officials, implicating them in a $230 million tax fraud, and he was charged with the crime instead of them.
Russian officials have been slow to pursue an investigation of his death. Although several prison officials were fired, investigators and police close to the case were promoted and publicly commended. Only this month did officials decide to charge two prison doctors for neglecting to treat Magnitsky, but an independent commission investigating the case said the guilt goes much higher than that.
A State Department spokesman told reporters in Washington that the United States would not be deterred in raising human rights concerns.
“I’m aware that there have been some statements from Russia,” Mark Toner said during a briefing. “But you know, we conducted an independent investigation on these individuals, and we believe we had credible information to move forward.”
He said the reset has been productive for both countries, expanding mutual cooperation.
“The reset has always been about working constructively with Russia in those areas where we share common concerns,” Toner said, “and we’ve always said that that’s not going to be done at the expense of our basic principles, including human rights.”