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25th Jul 2021

Estonia joins US in passing Magnitsky law

  • Browder earlier accused some Estonian banks of being part of the money laundering chain (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)

Estonia has voted to ban foreigners deemed guilty of human rights abuses from entering the country, in a law inspired by the Sergei Magnitsky case.

The law, passed unanimously by parliament on Thursday (8 December), entitles Estonia to forbid entry to people if "there is information or good reason to believe” that they took part in activities which resulted in the “death or serious damage to health of a person” or their “unfounded conviction … for criminal offence on political motives”.

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It comes as an amendment to Estonia’s 1998 Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act.

The law is unofficially named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who died in 2009 in unclear circumstances in prison after exposing high-level corruption.

Eerik-Niiles Kross, an MP from Estonia’s Reform Party and the country’s former intelligence chief, who proposed the legislation, said: “We will finally have the ability to ban entry into Estonia for those types of people who beat Magnitsky to death in jail and those who tortured Nadiya Savchenko.”

Savchenko is a former Ukrainian airforce pilot, captured in Ukraine and put on trial in Russia, who was released and sent back to Ukraine in May.

Magnitsky’s former employer, Bill Browder, a British businessman who became a rights campaigner after Magnitsky’s death and who has lobbied EU and US authorities to go after Magnitsky’s killers, hailed the move as his first breakthrough in Europe.

“To have the first European Magnitsky law passed in a country which borders Russia is a fitting tribute to Sergei Magnitsky, whose murder in Russia inspired this legislation,” he said in a statement.

The Estonian law still needs to be signed by the president.

The vote comes the same day as the US Senate, also on Thursday, passed a law extending the scope of its previous Magnitsky law.

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials deemed guilty of human rights abuses.

Thursday’s Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act extends the reach of human rights-based sanctions beyond Russia and adds corruption to the list of sanctionable offences.

The new law “sends a clear message that if you violate the human rights and civil liberties of others, the United States will hold you accountable”, Republican senator John McCain said.

The British parliament is likewise preparing to a vote on a new law, named after Magnitsky, to let authorities seize the UK-based assets, such as luxury homes, of foreign human rights abusers.

“People with blood on their hands for the worst human rights abuses should not be able to funnel their dirty money into the UK”, Dominic Raab, the Tory party MP who tabled the amendment, told The Guardian, a British newspaper on Sunday.

Magnitsky uncovered that senior Russian officials and the Russian mafia embezzled $230 million from the Russian taxpayer and laundered the money in several EU jurisdictions and in the US.

Subsequent revelations in the so-called Panama Papers leaks showed that some of the funds flowed to a musician, Sergei Roldugin, who is a crony of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Browder's campaign has seen millions of euros of the illicit money frozen in bank accounts across Europe.

Russian authorities have pushed back with a lobbyist and propaganda campaign in Brussels and in Washington claiming that Browder stole the money and made up the Magnitsky story.

It has worked with authorities in Cyprus, a mini tax haven, to dig for dirt on Browder’s firms there.

The British rights campaigner has also received death threats and is often forced to travel with a security detail.

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