Posts Tagged ‘WSJ’
Some kids dream of winning the World Series, others of going to outer space. I dreamed of being declared persona non grata by Moscow.
Stalin once bestowed that honor on George Kennan, architect of the Cold War doctrine of containment. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin made this conservative’s dream come true.
On April 13, Russia banned 18 Americans from entering the country. The lucky few include a federal judge, prosecutors and law-enforcement agents, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, commanders of the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And me—apparently for my Justice Department work in approving interrogation and detention policies after the 9/11 attacks.
According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the blacklist punishes “people actually responsible for the legalization of torture and indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, for arrests and unjust sentences for our countrymen.” Happily, I learned the news while at Camp Pendleton for a federal judicial conference. Sitting among thousands of U.S. Marines seemed a good place to contemplate Putin justice.
Russia does not typically scour the world to protest the latest human-rights violations. Moscow announced its travel ban in response to American sanctions on 18 Russian officials involved in the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer in Moscow.
Magnitsky had discovered that Interior Ministry officials had used his client, Hermitage Capital, as a front to procure a fraudulent $230 million tax refund. Instead of prosecuting the corrupt officers, Russian police arrested the whistleblower. According to an investigation by the Public Moscow Oversight Commission, jailers tortured and beat Magnitsky and withheld critical medical treatment until he died. (more…)
Russia banned 18 Americans from entering its territory over the weekend, responding to a list published Friday by the Obama administration that barred the same number of Russians from the U.S. for their alleged involvement in the death of a whistle-blowing tax attorney in a Moscow jail.
The diplomatic row heightens discord ahead of a meeting Monday between U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Relations between the two global powers have grown tense, even as the White House tries to revive a “reset” in hopes of gaining the Kremlin’s support in dealings with North Korea, Syria and Iran.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry divided the list of banned current and former U.S. officials into two categories: four former U.S. officials that it alleges were involved in legalizing or authorizing torture at the Guantanamo Bay detention center and 14 U.S. officials that it alleges were involved in “violating the human rights and freedoms of Russian citizens abroad.”
The Guantanamo Bay list includes two former commanders of the detention center and former Bush Administration officials David Addington and John Yoo. The other list includes U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, as well as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and seven current and former officials from his office. It also includes four Drug Enforcement Administration officials and a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.
“I have rarely received such an honor,” Mr. Rakoff said in response to a query from The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Mr. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Justice Department official known for writing a series of controversial legal memos on enhanced interrogation techniques, said he has never been to Russia and has no plans to go. “But there goes the Black Sea vacation home for the wife,” he wrote in an email. (more…)
There’s an irony in the fact that the grudging bailout of Cyprus by other members of the European Union came at the end of the same week in which the late Sergei Magnitsky was due to go on trial in Russia.
Magnitsky was the Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009 after pursuing Russian officials who seized companies from his client Hermitage Capital and allegedly perpetrated a $230 million tax fraud. It’s a quirk of Russian law that the dead can be put on trial, with Magnitsky charged with the same offenses as the officials he pursued (The initial hearing on the case was delayed until March 22). His treatment led to U.S. sanctions on those officials in the form of the “Magnitsky list.”
What does this have to do with Cyprus? The Mediterranean nation has become what the good-governance group Global Financial Integrity described in a recent report as a “laundry machine for dirty Russian money.” GFI’s report said $128.8 billion flowed into Russia from Cyprus in 2011, more than five times its gross domestic product. (more…)
Wall Street Journal
It sounds like something out of a Nikolai Gogol story, but it’s true: Sergei Magnitsky, killed by abuse and neglect in a Russian prison at the age of 37, is now on trial more than three years after his death.
On Tuesday a Russian court held the second hearing of a sham trial to convict him posthumously of tax evasion. That hearing was postponed at the request of Magnitsky’s state-appointed defense attorney, who pleaded for more time to prepare a defense.
Assuming this gesture was not part of the charade, he needn’t have bothered. As in the show trials of the 1930s, the outcome is assured. The whole point of putting this dead man on trial is to secure a conviction and rob the victim of his status as an international martyr. Last year the U.S. passed the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions and bans from travel to the U.S. Russians implicated in his murder. Some countries in Europe may do the same.
The Putin government has no interest in seeing Magnitsky’s name cleared. Yet it is revealing that Moscow feels bound to produce a verdict. Even Vladimir Putin’s Russia seeks to adopt the trappings if not the substance of criminal justice.
Magnitsky’s real “crime,” the one for which he was killed, was to expose official corruption and the theft of state assets after his client, investor Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital, was expelled from Russia in 2005 and forced to liquidate his holdings there. Perhaps conscious of the absurdity of trying a corpse, last week prosecutors added Mr. Browder to the dock in absentia. So the world will be treated to the spectacle of a trial of a dead man and a foreigner living in Britain—all to improve the image of Putin’s regime.
The Russian state, in its benevolence, granted the defense attorney the time he requested this week. But there can be no stay of execution for Sergei Magnitsky, and his trial deserves the full measure of the world’s contempt.
Russian authorities announced new fraud charges against U.S.-born investor William Browder, escalating pressure in a politically charged case that has fueled tensions between Moscow and the West.
The new charges come as a Moscow court is set to begin hearings in a rare posthumous trial of Mr. Browder’s former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, on tax-evasion allegations next week.
Mr. Magnitsky died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after exposing what he and Mr. Browder claimed was a $230 million fraud perpetrated against the Russian government by senior police and security officials. A Kremlin human rights commission said in 2011 that Mr. Magnitsky was beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment, leading to his death. Russian authorities deny any wrongdoing and lower-level prison officials charged in the case have been acquitted.
The U.S. government, pushing for a full investigation of his death and the corruption allegations, passed a law known as the “Magnitsky Act” last year that imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials allegedly implicated in the case and other violations of human rights. The law triggered some of the worst tensions in years between Moscow and Washington. The Kremlin denounced the measure as unjustified interference in Russia’s affairs and retaliated by banning adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Mr. Browder, a U.K. citizen, is now pushing for passage of similar restrictions in Europe. He said Tuesday the new charges were “retaliation” for his global campaign. A Russian Interior Ministry spokesman denied that. Officials said they would seek his extradition to Russia, though so far western law-enforcement agencies haven’t cooperated in the probes. (more…)
This year is shaping up to be a worrying one for Russian President Vladimir Putin. After a long delay, the U.S. Congress finally passed the Magnitsky Act last month, committing to travel and banking sanctions against the Russian government officials who turn the wheels of Mr. Putin’s repressive machine. Taking aim at the apparatchiks this way can shake the entire Kremlin power structure.
It remains to be seen whether the State Department will vigorously enforce the law, having attempted to scuttle it before Congress passed it. But with proper enforcement, the law could undermine the standard mafia-boss promise that governs Mr. Putin’s ruling clique—”Stay loyal to me and I will protect you, no matter your crimes.”
A generation of Western leaders has accepted Mr. Putin and allowed him largely to back up this boast. Russian oligarchs shop for English soccer clubs and Manhattan penthouses while corrupt judges and vicious security officers enjoy their foreign holidays. Alexander Sidyakin, the member of parliament who co-wrote recent laws cracking down on protests and nongovernmental organizations, has vacationed on both coasts of the U.S. while publicly vilifying America.
The Kremlin responded to the Magnitsky Act by banning American adoption of Russian orphans (through a bill co-written by Mr. Sidyakin). This brutal policy can be understood only as a sneer from Mr. Putin to emphasize that he is capable of anything. The message of ruthlessness was meant not only for the West but for the millions of Russians who marched in protest of Mr. Putin’s rule last year. (more…)
Is Russia finally getting serious about corruption?
Russia’s Interior Ministry has taken the rare step of spearheading a high-profile international investigation, charging a former member of the board of directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development with seeking a bribe from a company that wanted a loan.
Yelena Kotova, who sat on EBRD board from 2005 to the end of 2010 as a representative of Russia, Belarus and Tajikistan, denies the allegations.
Coming after the introduction of higher fines for bribery, more investigations, official jawboning on the issue and a higher ranking in the latest Transparency International data, does this signify the turning of a page?
It does not, according to two attorneys who work with companies in Russia.
“It’s good that the Russians are investigating corruption,” said Danforth Newcomb at Shearman & Sterling, but he said he hasn’t detected any significant improvement in the level of corruption there.
Likewise, Daniel Rothstein from a New York law firm with the same name, said his view, partly based on conversations with professional colleagues in Russia, is to “doubt there is a trend toward cleaning up private or public corruption.”
Both lawyers point out corruption investigations in Russia are often used for settling scores. “Unless you’re inside the case, it’s impossible to know the significance of any corruption investigation in Russia,” said Rothstein. (more…)
President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed into law a ban on adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, with immediate and heart-wrenching impact.
As of Tuesday, none of the 120,000 or so abandoned and orphaned Russians currently eligible for adoption will be able to find a home in the U.S. In the past two decades, over 60,000 have done so, including disabled children who can’t get the care they need in Russia.
The U.S. has been the top foreign destination, though the number of adopted Russian children had come down to 1,000 annually in recent years. The fate of some 50 children who were in the final stages of adoption is unclear. In many cases they had met and bonded with would-be parents in America and now may not be allowed to join them.
The Russian law abrogates a bilateral agreement on adoption that went into force only last month. If Moscow can’t honor this kind of treaty, it’d be good to know why the Obama Administration expects to negotiate another arms control deal with this crowd. (more…)
President Barack Obama signed legislation that cracks down on human-rights abusers in Russia.
The legislation, part of a broader bill that normalizes trade relations with Russia, passed the Senate last week after clearing the House of Representatives in November.
The human rights provision attached to the trade bill was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management who has been cheered as a martyr and a whistleblower after he made allegations of a huge fraud scandal in Russia and died while in the hands of Russian authorities.
Under the law, the U.S. assets of human-rights abusers in Russia would be frozen and they would be banned from being granted visas to enter the U.S.
Moscow has rejected the allegations of human-rights abuses, and has vowed to retaliate with similar legislation.
Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the Magnitsky Act “unfriendly,” saying U.S.-Russian relations were at stake.