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US lawmakers seek to ban visas for Russia officials linked to lawyer's death

US lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill [press release, PDF] that would prohibit the US State Department (DOS) [official website] from issuing visas to individuals, or their family members, who are connected to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky, who was arrested on allegations of tax fraud and held for over a year without a trial after representing London-based hedge fund Hermitage Capital [corporate website] in a suit against Russian officials, died [JURIST report] last November in a Moscow prison. Magnitsky's family and employers have made allegations that, on several occasions, he was denied medical treatment that could have saved his life and his death has been labeled a "murder" [JURIST report] by Russian human rights leaders. In addition to the visa restrictions, the bill would also prohibit the transaction of property or finances through US financial institutions by officials implicated in Magnitsky's death. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) [official website], who introduced the bill, said it was necessary for the US to take action because the Russian judicial system had failed to hold anyone accountable for Magnitsky's death. In his statement [text] introducing the bill, Cardin noted the bill's importance in protecting US business interests abroad and sending "a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel and invest abroad." Cardin originally urged the DOS to take action on the visas in a letter [text, PDF] he submitted in April to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In addition to the letter, Cardin provided a list of 60 senior officials [text, PDF] in the Russian government and their connection to the death of Magnitsky.

The Russian government has been highly criticized for its alleged role in the deaths of several high-profile individuals who died under suspicious circumstances. Last November, a suspect was arrested [JURIST report] for the double murder [JURIST report] of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov had represented famed journalist Anna Politskovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] who was shot and killed [JURIST report] in 2006. To date, no one has been convicted [JURIST report] for Politkovskaya's murder. Russia has also received a great deal of criticism for apparently baseless detentions such as Magnitsky's. The expropriation of OAO Yukos Oil Co. [Time backgrounder] and the indictment against and detention of company founder, Mikhail Khordorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] have provoked the condemnation [JURIST op-ed] of many legal experts abroad.

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