In a move reflecting the increasing significance of the Sergei Magnitsky case to UK-Russia relations, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his concern over the lack of progress with the Russian investigation into the torture and death in police custody of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer working for the UK investment firm, Hermitage Capital.
In a letter to William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, Prime Minister Cameron wrote that he had raised his concerns about the Magnitsky case during his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his official visit to London in mid-February.
Sergei Magnitsky, an outside lawyer working for Hermitage, was falsely arrested, tortured and killed in police custody after uncovering and exposing a US$230 million tax fraud committed by Russian police officials and testifying against those who committed the crimes.
In the letter, Prime Minister Cameron stated:
"I have now been briefed about the case and am deeply concerned by its implications for the rule of law and respect for human rights in Russia. It is of particular concern that the official investigation announced by President Medvedev in November 2009 has not yet reported its findings."
Prime Minister Cameron also pledged to track the Magnitsky case ahead of his planned visit to Russia later this year. He wrote:
"The Foreign Secretary and I discussed the Magnitsky case with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when I met him inDowning Street on 15 February. We will continue to track progress on the case ahead of my planned visit to Russia later this year. The Government's response to the case is being led by the Minister for Europe, David Liddington."
A total of 22 British MP’s have signed an Early Day Motion calling on the British government to impose visa sanctions and to freeze the assets of those Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s torture and death and the large-scale corruption he uncovered. The MP’s represent a wide cross-party spectrum spanning Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, SDLP and the Democratic Unionist Party.
In January 2011, Chris Bryant MP, the UK Shadow Justice Minister and former Minister for Europe, submitted to the UK Home Secretary an extensive 1,000-page dossier with evidence outlining the roles played by 60 Russian officials involved in Mr. Magnitsky’s arrest, torture and death. Mr. Bryant also called on the British Government to formally designate these Russian officials as “economic terrorists” under the Terrorism Act for their role in harming British economic interests.
Despite well-documented evidence of abuse of office and the enrichment of Russian Interior Ministry officials involved in the torture and death of Mr. Magnitsky, Russian authorities have, to date, refused to investigate and bring those officials to trial. Instead, the Russian government promoted and gave state honours to those same officials on the one-year anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s death in custody.
In April 2010, the US Helsinki Commission (US OSCE Commission) issued an official list of 60 Russian officials implicated in the unlawful arrest, torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky and the theft of US$230 million of public funds he uncovered. Shortly thereafter, the US Congress and Canadian Parliament put forward legislation imposing visa bans and asset freezes on those Russian officials. On 16 December 2010, the European Parliament adopted, with an overwhelming majority, a resolution calling upon the European Council for “an EU entry ban for Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s case” and encouraging cooperation of EU law enforcement “in freezing bank accounts and other assets of these Russian officials in all EU Member States.”
Hermitage Capital was for a decade the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, and this case has developed a high profile around the world. The Hermitage case and persecution of its lawyers and executives by Russian authorities have been formally recognized by the Council of Europe as “emblematic of the politically motivated abuse of the criminal justice system.”