US House Panel Approves Magnitsky Sanctions Bill

Posted June 7th, 2012 at 1:55 pm (UTC-5)
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A U.S. congressional committee has approved a bill imposing sanctions on Russian officials involved in the 2009 prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday passed the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act” on a voice vote. The measure would deny visas and freeze the American assets of Russian officials linked to Magnitsky's arrest and death.

Approval by the House panel is the first step in advancing the bill, which must still win approval by two more committees before the full House can vote on the measure.

Some lawmakers are calling for the Magnitsky bill to be attached to a proposal to grant “permanent normal trade relations” between the United States and Russia. U.S. business leaders oppose that move, and Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks said he opposes it, too.

“This is why we need immediately to authorize PNTR, and let me repeat, to improve the rule of law in Russia, to strengthen civil society, to create jobs in the United States, we must immediately authorize PNTR for Russia. So, as important as it is to keep malefactors from whatever country from our shores, it is equally important to look for ways to increase our engagement with Russia.”

The Obama administration has also come out against linking the U.S. position on the Magnitsky case with other areas of U.S.-Russian relations. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has said a new sanctions bill is unnecessary as Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky case are already under U.S. sanctions.

Sergei Magnitsky worked for the investment firm Hermitage Capital. He was jailed after accusing Hermitage officials and Russian Interior Ministry officials of fraud. Russian human rights activists say he was likely beaten to death while in prison.