Posts Tagged ‘associated press’
More than three years after he died in prison, whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion by a Moscow court Wednesday.
The posthumous trial of Magnitsky was a macabre chapter in a case that ignited a high-emotion dispute between Russia and Washington that has included U.S. sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators, a ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and calls for the closure of Russian non-governmental organizations receiving American funding.
Magnitsky was a lawyer for U.S.-born British investor William Browder when he alleged in 2008 that organized criminals colluded with corrupt Interior Ministry officials to claim a fraudulent $230 million tax rebate after illegally seizing subsidiaries of Browder’s Hermitage Capital investment company.
He subsequently was arrested on tax evasion charges and died in prison in November 2009 of untreated pancreatitis at age 37.
His death prompted widespread criticism from human rights activists and the presidential human rights council found in 2011 that he had been beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment.
Announcing his verdict Thursday, Judge Igor Alisov said “Magnitsky masterminded a massive tax evasion scheme in a … conspiracy with a group of people,” according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
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The Treasury Department on Friday announced sanctions against 18 Russians over human rights violations, but avoided some prominent officials whose inclusion could have enflamed U.S.-Russian relations.
U.S. lawmakers who backed the sanctions viewed the list as timid while a prominent Russian lawmaker said it could have been worse. State Department officials denied that political considerations had been a factor.
The list was mandated by a law passed last year and named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment.
The list included Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, two Russian Interior Ministry officers who put Magnitsky behind bars after he accused them of stealing $230 million from the state. Two tax officials the lawyer accused of approving the fraudulent tax refunds, and several other Interior Ministry officials accused of persecuting Magnitsky were also on the list. Absent were senior officials from President Vladimir Putin’s entourage whom some human rights advocates had hoped to see sanctioned.
Magnitsky’s former client, London-based investor William Browder, who has campaigned to bring those responsible in his death to justice, has claimed that one of those tax officials, Olga Stepanova, has bought luxury real estate in Moscow, Dubai and Montenegro and wired money through her husband’s bank accounts worth $39 million.
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Russia’s Interior Ministry is preparing to bring criminal charges against U.S.-born investor Bill Browder, the latest turn in a feud which has led to U.S. sanctions against on some Russian officials, a Russian ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans, and the upcoming trial of a dead man.
The dead man is Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who worked for Browder’s Hermitage Capital, once a minority shareholder in the state-controlled gas giant, Gazprom.
Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after his pancreatitis went untreated. The Russian presidential council on human rights said in a 2011 report that Magnitsky had been repeatedly beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment. The lawyer’s death became a litmus test for the Russian government’s commitment to the rule of law: no one has yet been found responsible for his killing.
Magnitsky and Browder are due to be put on trial next week for tax evasion.
Russia’s top court ruled in August 2011 that posthumous trials are allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones’ names. In Magnitsky’s case, prosecutors re-filed charges although family members said they didn’t want another trial.
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A Senate plan to lift Cold War restrictions on trade with Russia drew immediate resistance from Senate Republicans who said Congress must first address Russia’s poor human rights record and existing economic and political policies.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation to normalize trade relations with Russia by repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik act that tied trade with the then-Soviet Union to Moscow’s allowing Jews and other minorities to leave the country.
The repeal of Jackson-Vanik is necessary if U.S. businesses are to enjoy the lower tariffs and increased access to Russian markets that will become available when Russia joins the World Trade Organization this summer. Supporters of normalized trade said it could lead to a doubling of U.S. exports to Russia.
“Jackson-Vanik served its purpose during the Cold War, but it’s a relic of another era that now stands in the way of our farmers, ranchers and businesses pursuing opportunities to grow and create jobs,” Baucus said in a statement.
Baucus was joined in sponsoring the bill by Senate Foriegn Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Republicans John McCain of Arizona and John Thune of South Dakota.
But eight Finance Committee Republicans, led by ranking Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, wrote a letter to Baucus saying that Congress cannot ignore ongoing issues with Russia in moving to normalize trade relations.
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U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk says a top priority for his office this year is repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment that can be used to put trade restrictions on Russia.
The Cold War-era amendment allows denial of most-favored-nation status to non-market countries that restrict emigration. Although the United States has granted Russia annual waivers since 1994, the law remains an irritant to investors and Russian politicians.
Some U.S. lawmakers have indicated they would support repeal of Jackson-Vanik in exchange for passage of the so-called Magnitsky bill that would bar Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from the United States.
Kirk said the two measures should not be linked.
The Obama administration wants Congress to remove Soviet-era trade restrictions that have been a sore point in U.S.-Russia relations for decades. But the conditions lawmakers are demanding to make the change may only worsen America’s increasingly shaky relations with Moscow.
Republicans and Democrats are trying to tie the easing of the so-called Jackson-Vanik restrictions to a measure imposing sanctions against Russian officials linked to human rights abuses. That would infuriate Russia and would be the latest hitch in what administration officials consider a major foreign policy success: improved relations with Russia after a sharp downturn during the Bush administration. They call it the “reset.”
Obama administration officials are trying to keep the rights and trade measures apart. They are concerned about retaliation and do not want to aggravate relations further. Tensions have been growing over issues like missile defense and the international response to uprisings in Libya and Syria. But the U.S. still hopes for a degree of cooperation with Russia on other matters, such as stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
“We want to deal with trade issues in one sphere and democracy issues and human rights in another sphere,” said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
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A government probe into the death in prison of a Russian lawyer who exposed official corruption covered up a brutal beating he received in prison and the deliberate denial of medical treatment, a new report claimed Monday.
Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested after accusing officials of corruption, died in November 2009 after the pancreatitis he developed in prison went untreated. Two prison doctors have been charged with negligence.
The 37-year-old had been arrested by the same Interior Ministry officials whom he had accused of using false tax papers to steal $230 million from the state.
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Russia has banned entry to U.S. officials allegedly involved in killings and abductions, a strong response to Washington’s blacklisting of Russian officials involved in the prison death of a whistleblower.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday it was blacklisting unspecified U.S. officials it claims were involved in the abductions of alleged terrorism suspects, the torture of inmates at Guantanamo prison, the killings of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the abductions or abuse of Russians in the United States. It did not say how many U.S. officials were affected.
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Russian investigators launched a criminal probe Monday against two prison officials for their suspected role in the death of a jailed lawyer, who claimed to have uncovered a $230 million tax fraud by corrupt Interior Ministry officers.
This is the first time Russian officials have specifically identified anyone in relation to the death of Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009 after the pancreatitis he developed in prison went untreated.
But the announcement has done little to appease the lawyer’s supporters, who accuse the authorities of failing to investigate the real culprits.
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