Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010.
As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I first learned about Sergei Magnitsky at a hearing I held on Russia in June 2009.
Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian anti-corruption lawyer employed by a prominent American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax rebate fraud in Russian history perpetrated by high level Russian officials. After discovering this complex and brazen corruption scheme, Sergei Magnitsky dutifully testified to the authorities detailing the conspiracy to defraud the Russian people of approximately $230 million dollars and naming the names of those officials. Shortly after his testimony, Sergei was arrested by subordinates of the very law enforcement officers he had implicated in this crime. He was held in detention for nearly a year without trial under torturous conditions and died in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door on November 16, 2009.
In April of this year I sent a letter to our Secretary of State urging a visa ban for Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky. I also released a list of 60 senior officials from the Russian Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, Federal Tax Service, Regional Courts, General Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Prison Service, along with detailed descriptions of their involvement in this matter. My bill reminds the Department of State that I have not forgotten and will not forget this issue. In fact, this bill goes a bit further adding an asset freeze provision to be applied against those implicated in this tragic affair. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my letter to Secretary of State Clinton and my list be entered into the record.
Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer with what should have been a promising career ahead of him died at age 37 leaving behind a mother, a wife, and two boys who never saw him or even heard his voice after his arrest. Since his death, no one has been held accountable and some of those involved even have been promoted. Also, there is strong evidence that the criminal enterprise that stole the money from the Russian treasury and falsely imprisoned and tortured Magnitsky, continues to operate. In fact, the American founding partner of Magnitsky’s firm fled Russia for his safety in the months following his colleague’s death after learning that a similar fraud scheme was attempted by the same criminals.
This is a heartbreaking story, and let me be clear, my bill does not even attempt to deliver justice as that would be impossible since nothing can bring Sergei back. There are obvious limits to what we can do as Americans, but we can deny the privilege of visiting our country and accessing our financial system. This bill sends a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel and invest abroad. I hope others, especially in the EU, UK, and Canada will adopt similar sanctions.
This measure is also about the future and protecting our business interests abroad by making it clear that, even if your home country allows you to trample the rule of law, we will not stand by and become an unwitting accomplice in your crimes.
Sadly, Sergei Magnitsky joins the ranks of a long list of Russian heroes who lost their lives because they stood up for principle and for truth. These ranks include Natalia Estemirova a brave human rights activist shot in the head and chest and stuffed into the trunk of a car, Anna Politkovskaya an intrepid reporter shot while coming home with an arm full of groceries, and too many others.
Often in these killings there is a veil of plausible deniability, gunmen show up in the dark and slip away into the shadows, but Sergei, in inhuman conditions managed to document in 450 complaints exactly who bears responsibility for his false arrest and death. We must honor his heroic sacrifice and do all we can to learn from this tragedy that others may not share his fate.
Few are made in the mold of Sergei Magnitsky – able to withstand barbaric depravations and cruelty without breaking and certainly none of us would want to be put to such a test. For those corrupt officials who abuse their office, Sergei’s life stands as a rebuke to what is left of their consciences. To those who suffer unjustly, Sergei’s experience can be a reminder to draw strength from and to know that they are not completely alone in their struggle.
In closing, I wish to address those prominent Russian human rights defenders who just a couple weeks ago appealed to our government and to European leaders to adopt the sanctions I called for in my April letter to Secretary Clinton. You are the conscience of Russia and we have heard your plea. You are not alone, and while you and your fellow citizens must do the heavy-lifting at home, I assure you that “human rights” are not empty words for this body and for my government. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.
Thank you, Mr. President.