Foreign Office refutes claims of issuing Magnitsky visa sanctions

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has denied claims that it has introduced a blacklist naming 60 Russian officials believed to be involved in the fraud, subsequent detention, torture and death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

Following a report published in The Sunday Times on 2 September, which claimed that the UK Home Secretary Theresa May had sent a list to the British embassy in Moscow imposing visa restrictions on 60 Russian officials, the FCO has strongly refuted such claims, saying in an official statement that there has been “no list of officials subject to a visa in place.”

This statement followed a request from the Russian Foreign Ministry to confirm the veracity of the allegations made in Sunday’s article, saying it would respond in kind if they proved true.

The list, which was originally created by US senator Benjamin Cardin in 2010 and is sometimes referred to as Cardin’s List, comprises the names of 60 prosecutors, judges, investigators and other Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death.

Magnitsky, a lawyer at Firestone Duncan in Moscow, was initially detained in November 2008 on suspicion of assisting his client, UK-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, to allegedly evade around $17.4m (£11m) in taxes.

Although the original allegations were lodged against Hermitage, throughout the course of the investigation Magnitsky came upon what he believed to be a cover-up by Russian state officials to embezzle an estimated $230m from the Russian treasury. He was detained and died in pre-trial custody.

The latest news concerning the Magnitsky List follows the recent revelation that the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which would ban Russian officials believed to be involved in Magnitsky’s death both from entering the US and from using US financial institutions, had already passed several major hurdles in the US Congress and is scheduled for the floor vote when Congress reconvenes after the summer recess (6 August 2012).

Hermitage founder Bill Browder and his team have compiled a dossier of thousands of pages citing evidence of the 60 officials’ collusion in Magnitsky’s arrest, torture and subsequent death. This information was recently handed over to David Liddington, the incumbent Minister of Europe.

Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who has been a strong supporter of Magnitsky’s plight in the UK, is also understood to have personally handed two files of evidence over to home secretary Theresa May.

Raab has also been campaigning for the UK Government to introduce its own version of the Magnitsky Act and sponsored a parliamentary motion earlier this year, which was backed by five former foreign ministers and which received unanimous approval from the House of Commons.

Following the success by campaigners to push the Magnitsky Act through the US Congress, Browder hopes that other Western countries such as the UK will impose asset freezes and issue visa bans on these 60 individuals.

“Parliamentary pressure is slowly pushing governments to do the right thing and we saw this earlier this year when the the UK changed the rules to ban human rights abusers from obtaining visas,” he commented.

“There is the same call now for the government to introduce Magnitsky sanctions here. It’s starting to reach a critical mass and it is all part of the process to eventually issue a full set of sanctions against all of those people involved in Magnitsky’s death.”

However, a diplomatic dispute over the Magnitsky case would add further strain to relations between the UK and Russia. The two countries became embroiled in a tit-for-tat quarrel in 2007 which resulted in four British diplomats being expelled from Russia, following the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from the UK over Moscow’s refusal to extradite a murder suspect. A similar incident occurred in 2010 after the UK expelled a diplomat for alleged spying and Russia responded by expelling a diplomat from the British embassy in Moscow.

The FCO said in its statement: “There is no list of officials subject to a visa in place. We consider each application on its merits. We don’t prejudge evidence in advance of applications being made. [We have a] long standing policy of not discussing individual immigration cases.

“As the human rights report sets out, foreign nationals from outside the European Economic Area may only come to the UK if they satisfy the requirements of the immigration rules. Where there is independent, reliable and credible evidence that an individual has committed human rights abuses, the individual will not normally be permitted to enter the UK.

“The Magnitsky case is of serious concern to the Government. It is deeply worrying that Mr Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention three years ago, under troubling circumstances, and that no one has yet been held to account. We call on Russia to ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice without further delay.”

For more on the Magnitsky Act, Magnitsky’s former boss Jamison Firestone and what it’s really like to be a lawyer in Russia, see our feature Fire Fighting