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Tue. January 31, 2023
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One Year Later, Documentary Commemorates Death of Sergei Magnitsky
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By Marina Grushin In an unprecedented show of solidarity, lawmakers and human rights activists gathered in capital cities around the world Tuesday to condemn the rampant lawlessness and corruption in Russia. Legislators in Washington, Ottawa, and cities across Europe hosted the events to commemorate Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison last year. On the one-year anniversary of Magnitsky’s death, his supporters premiered “Justice for Sergei,” a documentary chronicling the lawyer’s struggle against corrupt officials in Russia. An Unlikely Hero “Justice for Sergei” recounts events fit for a blockbuster thriller – if they weren’t taken from real life. The film begins with Sergei Magnitsky uncovering the largest case of tax fraud in Russian history. Relying on stolen documents, Russian Interior Ministry officials had seized control of companies owned by Hermitage Capital, once the largest foreign investor in Russia. Acting in the investment firm’s name, the officials applied for a $230 million tax refund, which was granted to them within days. As the scandal developed, Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder urged his lawyers to leave Russia for the firm’s headquarters in London. Browder would later lament that all but one agreed; indeed, Magnitsky insisted on remaining in Moscow to complete his investigation. “Sergei said, ‘I do not want such lawlessness in this country. I will fight it,” the lawyer’s long-time friend, Vladimir Yelin, explains in the film. Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and put in pre-trial detention. Faced with unsanitary, overcrowded conditions, Magnitsky’s health rapidly deteriorated. He filed hundreds of official complaints but never received the medical attention he desperately needed. Suffering from gallstones and pancreatitis, Magnitsky died on November 16th, 2009 at the age of 37. “Atmosphere of Hatred and Intolerance” Despite Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s promises to resolve Magnitsky’s case, no individuals have been prosecuted to this day. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry officials who orchestrated Magnitsky’s detention received promotions and awards for “bravery and selflessness” this year. In an equally bizarre twist, Russia’s Interior Ministry declared on Monday that Magnitsky himself was responsible for defrauding the Russian government of the $230 million. Speakers at the “Justice for Sergei” premiere in Washington reacted with shock and disappointment. “It seems to me that officials in Russia literally believe that they can get away with murder,” said David Kramer, Executive Director of Freedom House and former U.S Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “This is the equivalent of spitting on a dead man’s grave.” Boris Nemtsov, former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and now a prominent opposition activist, reminded attendees that Magnitsky’s case is not unique. “Over 100 journalists have been killed in the last ten years,” he lamented, adding that Russians suffer from their country’s “atmosphere of hatred and intolerance.” Justice for Sergei International pressure for Russia to bring closure to Magnitsky’s case has mounted steadily in recent months. “The recent actions by the Russian Interior Ministry to give state honors to the officers who tortured and killed Sergei Magnitsky show that there is little hope for getting justice in Russia. Therefore, we are seeking ways of obtaining justice outside of Russia,” Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder said in an interview. At the heart of these measures is the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010,” introduced by U.S. Senator and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission Benjamin Cardin. The legislation would deny U.S. visas to sixty individuals involved in Magnitsky’s arrest and detention. Similar acts have been proposed in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union. “The one thing that touches corrupt officials more than anything is cutting off their means of travelling and spending their ill gotten gains abroad,” Browder explained. “That is why we are pursuing visa sanctions in all the countries where these people hope to travel." The timeline for reviewing the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act remains unclear, but Browder hopes the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament will pass the bill this year. In his closing remarks in Washington, Nemtsov welcomed the proposed legislation: “Let this be a signal for thousands of corrupt people in Russia who are outside the rule of law and feel very free.” www.justiceforsergei.com

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