The Washington Post

Europe may follow U.S. on Magnitsky sanctions

A report prepared on the death of Russian whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, presented Tuesday to a European body that promotes human rights, severely criticized Russia for failing to hold anyone accountable for his death in pretrial detention.

The report was prepared by Andreas Gross, a member of the Swiss parliament, for the 47 countries making up the Council of Europe and was given to the council’s human rights and legal affairs committee Tuesday. At a news conference in France, Gross said the report would provide material for the council’s Parliamentary Assembly to consider when it debates possible sanctions against Russia at its winter session.

Magnitsky, who died in Moscow in November 2009, accused Russian officials of using documents stolen from the Hermitage Capital investment fund to carry off a $230 million tax fraud. Instead of pursuing the officials, authorities charged Magnitsky with the fraud. Recently, Russia opened a new case against him — in death — and brought charges against Hermitage founder William Browder as well.

Gross, who interviewed numerous witnesses in Russia, told the news conference that high-level officials declined to talk to him. He said the evidence he accumulated, however, persuaded him that Magnitsky was innocent and responsibility lay with “a group of criminals, including the persons he had accused before these persons took him into custody, where he died.”

The report comes six months after the United States passed the Magnitsky law, which places financial and visa sanctions on certain Russian officials. Russia vehemently denounced the U.S. law, and on Tuesday Ilyas Umakhanov, the deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, criticized the Gross report. He called it full of “flaws, contradictions and myths.”

Gross, however, maintained that the death tells a wider story of Russia.

“The Magnitsky case is just one emblematic example of how helpless individual citizens are once they are taken into custody,” Gross wrote in his report, adding that many others whose names were never known had suffered similar treatment. “It is for the sake of these nameless victims that the international community must not accept the outcome of the case so far.”

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