July 22, 2018


Why the Magnitsky Act -- and Bill Browder -- continues to be the biggest thorn in Putin's side (Eric Lutz, July 21, 2018, Mic)

Sergei Magnitsky was representing Browder when the tax lawyer was arrested after blowing the whistle on government corruption in Moscow.

He died in 2009, after almost one year in a Russian prison.

Seeking to avenge his late lawyer and hold Putin's government accountable for its human rights abuses, Browder pushed the U.S. government to adopt the tough sanctions against Moscow.

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) took up the cause, sponsoring the Magnitsky Act, which targeted numerous Russian officials believed to be responsible for the anti-corruption attorney's death.

Former President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012, and the Global Magnitsky Act was passed in 2016 sanctioning foreign government officials involved in human rights abuses. Several other countries have adopted similar sanctions since.

The Magnitsky Act has long been reviled by Putin, as it hits the wealthy Russian strongman's government where it hurts. It could also imperil the money he's believed to have overseas, according to Browder.

"The Magnitsky Act puts his entire wealth at risk," Browder said. "It's personal for him and that's why he hates it."

The law blocks the targeted Russians and other human rights abusers from entering the U.S., freezes their U.S. assets and prevents them from doing business with American banks. As Browder has explained, this hurts Russian government officials who have long stashed stolen money in Western bank accounts.

"In Russia, after all, officers and bureaucrats could steal it again, the same way they had stolen it in the first place: a raid, an extortion racket, a crooked court case with forged documents -- the possibilities are endless," the Atlantic's Julia Ioffe explained in 2017. "Protecting the money meant getting it out of Russia. But what happens if you get it out of Russia and it's frozen by Western authorities?"

But it doesn't only hurt Putin and his cronies economically. According to Nina Jankowicz, a D.C.-based writer and analyst who specializes in Russian politics, the sanctions also undercut Putin's government on the world stage.

"What's most important is that [the sanctions are] a blow to the image Russia wants to project as a great power," Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, said in an email. "Instead it is one being chastised by a growing number of countries for its human rights abuses."

Fighting the sanctions have been a major focus of Putin's government -- including in some of its dealings with the Trump team that are currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Posted by at July 22, 2018 6:13 PM


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