PARLIAMENT HILL—Tax attorneys make unlikely heroes, but Sergei Magnitsky died a horrible death at the age of 37, refusing to recant his assertion of a massive fraud in Russia.
Magnitsky spent his final days at the same prison that once held Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish hero credited with rescuing as many as 100,000 Jews from the Nazis only to be imprisoned by the Soviets on suspicion of espionage.
Like Wallenberg, Magnitsky is being remembered as a man of principle who stood by his sense of right and wrong at great personal cost.
Several years ago, Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, and his associates discovered that Russian companies they had invested in had bilked the Russian government for $230 million in taxes paid by Hermitage.
Exposing the fraud got Browder barred from Russia, but his lawyer, Magnitsky, paid a higher price. He was jailed, mistreated, and killed in November 2009. He was denied medical treatment for a severe pancreatic condition he developed while held in the infamous Butyrka prison.
Browder said the fact that the Russian government would attack people for exposing tax fraud shows that corruption had reached the highest levels of the government.
Browder has been on a mission to hold those responsible to account. That effort led to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passing the Magnitsky Act to impose financial and travel restrictions on Russian officials suspected of being involved.
Liberal MP and human rights lawyer Prof. Irwin Cotler wants Parliament to pass similar restrictions and has tabled a private member’s bill to that effect. He has also approached Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on the matter.
On Tuesday, Cotler announced the creation of an international group of Parliamentarians from over 10 countries who will work to get justice for Magnitsky.
“The tragic torture and death in detention of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest international criminal conspiracy and tax fraud in Russian history and paid for it with his life, is a looking glass into the pervasive culture of corruption and impunity implicating senior government officials in Russia today,” Cotler said.
In a move Cotler says would make Kafka blush, the Russian government has initiated a posthumous trial against Magnitsky, accusing him of the same crimes they themselves perpetrated.
Magnitsky’s family is also being intimidated and threatened with reprisals, he said.
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