The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama in November–December 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.
In 2009, Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison after investigating fraud involving Russian tax officials. While in prison, Magnitsky developed gall stones, pancreatitis and calculous cholecystitis and was refused medical treatment for months. After almost a year of imprisonment, he was beaten to death while in custody.
In June 2012, the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs reported to the House a bill called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (H.R. 4405). The main intention of the law was to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and their use of its banking system. The legislation was taken up by a Senate panel the next week, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin, and cited in a broader review of the mounting tensions in the international relationship.
In November 2012, provisions of the Magnitsky bill were attached to a House bill (H.R. 6156) normalizing trade with Russia (i.e., repealing the Jackson–Vanik amendment) and Moldova. On December 6, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed the House version of the law. The law was signed by President Barack Obama on December 14, 2012.
In 2016, Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Act which allows the US Government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.
- Artem (aka Artyom) Kuznetsov, a tax investigator for the Moscow division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Pavel Karpov, a senior investigator for the Moscow division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Oleg F. Silchenko, a senior investigator for the Ministry of Internal Affairs
- Olga Stepanova, head of Moscow Tax Office No. 28
- Yelena Stashina, Tverskoy District Court judge who prolonged Magnitsky's detention
- Andrey Pechegin, deputy head of the investigation supervision division of the general prosecutor's office
- Aleksey Droganov
- Yelena Khimina, Moscow tax official
- Dmitriy Komnov, head of Butyrka Detention Center
- Aleksey Krivoruchko, Tverskoy District Court judge
- Oleg Logunov
- Sergei G. Podoprigorov, Tverskoy District Court judge
- Ivan Pavlovitch Prokopenko
- Dmitri M. Tolchinskiy
- Svetlana Ukhnalyova
- Natalya V. Vinogradova
- Kazbek Dukuzov, Chechen acquitted of the murder of Paul Klebnikov
- Lecha Bogatyrov, implicated by Austrian authorities as the murderer of Umar Israilov
Russian government reaction
In response to the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, the Russian government denied Americans adoption of Russian children, issued a list of US officials prohibited from entering Russia, and posthumously convicted Magnitsky as guilty. In addition, the Russian government reportedly lobbied against the legislation acting through a public relations company led by Kenneth Duberstein.
Ban on U.S. adoption of Russian children
On December 19, 2012, the State Duma voted 400 to 4 to ban the international adoption of Russian children into the United States. The bill was unofficially named after Dmitri Yakovlev (Chase Harrison), a Russian toddler who died in 2008 of heat stroke after neglect by his adoptive American father. Other recent developments include the proposition of a law to prevent US citizens from working with political NGOs in Russia and a proposition of a law, recently abandoned, preventing any foreigner from speaking on state television if they discredited the state.
Banning some U.S. officials from Russia
On April 13, 2013, Russia released a list naming 18 Americans banned from entering the Russian Federation over their alleged human rights violations, as a direct response to the Magnitsky list. The people banned from Russia are listed below:
US officials involved in legalizing torture and indefinite detention of prisoners:
- David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney (2005–2009)
- John Yoo, Assistant US Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice (2001–2003)
- Geoffrey D. Miller, retired US Army Major General, commandant of Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), the organization that runs the Guantanamo Bay detention camps (2002–2003)
- Jeffrey Harbeson, US Navy officer, commandant of JTF-GTMO (2010–2012)
The Russian lawmakers also banned several U.S. officials involved in the prosecution and trial of Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout and drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko, both serving prison time in the United States:
- Jed Rakoff, Senior US District Judge for the Southern District of New York
- Preet Bharara, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York
- Michael J. Garcia, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York
- Brendan R. McGuire, Assistant US Attorney
- Anjan S. Sahni, Assistant US Attorney
- Christian R. Everdell, Assistant US Attorney
- Jenna Minicucci Dabbs, Assistant US Attorney
- Christopher L. Lavigne, Assistant US Attorney
- Michael Max Rosensaft, Assistant US Attorney
- Louis J. Milione, Special Agent, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
- Sam Gaye, Senior Special Agent, US DEA
- Robert F. Zachariasiewicz, Special Agent, US DEA
- Derek S. Odney, Special Agent, US DEA
- Gregory A. Coleman, Special Agent, US Federal Bureau of Investigation
Trump campaign–Russian meeting
In June 2016, a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was hired to lobby against the Magnitsky Act in the US, set up a Trump campaign–Russia meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., purportedly to discuss altering the Russian Duma's sanctions against American adoption of Russian children along with other illegal activities. On July 11, 2017, Reuters US reported of the meeting that "[Russia] offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to [Trump Jr.'s] father". Donald Trump Jr. insisted that Veselnitskaya did not reveal any damaging information about Secretary Clinton as his correspondents had suggested. Trump Jr. subsequently released to the public via Twitter.com his personal records and correspondence between the Trump campaign team and Robert Goldstone, a longtime business partner and friend of Trump Sr., who actively represents several Russian interests and first pitched the meeting to Trump Jr.
Australian expatriate jurist Geoffrey Robertson, who is representing some of the Magnitsky campaigners, has described the Act as "one of the most important new developments in human rights". He says it provides "a way of getting at the Auschwitz train drivers, the apparatchiks, the people who make a little bit of money from human rights abuses and generally keep under the radar".
State Duma deputy Yevgeny Fedorov argued that the real purpose of the Magnitsky bill was to manipulate key figures in big business and government, with the aim of pro-American policy in the Russian Federation.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs Directorate for Special Affairs in the U.K. stated that it is aware of those on the list. The U.K. bans travel of those on the list under existing legislation which prohibits entry for those implicated in cases of human rights violations.
The World Socialist Web Site condemned the United States for only invoking human rights as a cover for realpolitik, stating that Washington had supported "far greater crimes, [such] as when Boris Yeltsin in 1993 ordered bombardment of the Russian White House, the seat of the country’s parliament, killing over 1,000 people".
In March 2015, the parliament of Canada passed an initial motion towards passing such a law.
January 2017 blacklisting
On January 9, 2017, under the Magnitsky Act, the United States Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control updated its Specially Designated Nationals List and blacklisted Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, Andrei K. Lugovoi, Dmitri V. Kovtun, Stanislav Gordievsky, and Gennady Plaksin, which froze any of their assets held by American financial institutions or transactions with those institutions and banned their travelling to the United States.
Implementation oversight in 2017
In May 2017 US authorities settled a case against Prevezon, one of the companies used for laundering the money exfiltrated from Russia as result of the fraud discovered by Sergey Magnitsky. The settlement dismissed the case, and the real-estate company agreed to pay $5.8 million fine.
Also in May 2017 an investigation was started on £6.6m that was allegedly transferred from the fraud scheme into a banking firm in the UK.
In December 2016, Congress enlarged the scope of the Magnitsky Act to address human rights abuses on a global scale. The current Global Magnitsky Act (GMA) allows the US Government to sanction corrupt government officials implicated in abuses anywhere in the world.
In September 2017, a group of NGOs and anti-corruption organizations identified fifteen international cases where alleged crimes were committed. Individuals from countries, including Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mexico, Panama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam, were nominated for sanctions.
In early August 2017, Bill Richardson's Center for Global Engagement also identified a case where alleged crimes were committed in Bulgaria: nominated perpetrators include Bulgaria's General Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov and controversial media mogul and Member of Parliament Delyan Peevski.
Magnitsky Acts in other countries
In May 2017, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Canada that its anticipated new law, known as The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Bill (Sergei Magnitsky Law), was a "blatantly unfriendly step", and that "If the Canadian Parliament approves this sanctions legislation, the relations between our countries, which are already experiencing difficult times, will suffer significant damage". CBC News in Canada also reported that Russia has placed Canada's Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, and twelve other Canadian politicians and activists on a Kremlin 'blacklist' and has barred them from entering Russia because of their criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea.
On October 19, 2017, the Canadian Parliament passed the Bill into law, after a unanimous vote in Canada's House of Commons, with 277 for, and none against. Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, accused Canada of "political games" over its new Magnitsky law.
Canada's Magnitsky Act also targeted 19 Venezuelan and 3 South Sudanese officials, along with the original 30 Russian individuals under sanctions.
On December 8, 2016, Estonia introduced a new law, inspired by the Sergei Magnitsky case, to ban foreigners deemed guilty of human rights abuses from entering the country. The law, which was passed unanimously in the Estonian Parliament, states that it entitles Estonia to forbid entry to people if, among other things, "there is information or good reason to believe" that they took part in activities which resulted in the "death or serious damage to health of a person".
On November 9, 2017 the Parliament of Lithuania approved for discussion relevant amendments to the law, with 78 votes in support, one against and five abstentions. Finally, on November 16, 2017 (the 8th anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder) the Parliament of Lithuania passed the law unanimously.
On February 21, 2017 the UK House of Commons unanimously passed an amendment to the country's Criminal Finances Bill inspired by the Magnitsky Act that would allow the government to freeze the assets of international human rights violators in the UK.