12th May 2021

MEPs pave way for EU-Russia sanctions dispute

  • Passport control at Warsaw airport: The Polish foreign minister has said he would 'consider' supporting the ban (Photo: afagen)

Emboldened by a new EU parliament resolution, Bill Browder, the CEO of US firm Hermitage Capital, has told EUobserver that he will use Schengen Zone rules to push for an EU-wide travel ban on 60 Russian officials accused of complicity in the murder of one of his employees.

"In the Schengen Zone it only requires one country to impose travel sanctions on the Russian torturers and all the Schengen countries have to follow," he told this website by phone from London on Thursday (16 December). "The next step will be to approach individual member states with hard evidence on the people who murdered and tortured Sergey Magnitsky in order to implement this resolution."

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"We have a list of names and documents with peoples' signatures on them denying Sergey Magnitsky the medical treatment that he needed. Documents with signatures on his false arrest. Documents with signatures denying him any contacts with his family for 12 months. We'll go one by one through all the member states."

Mr Magnitsky, a 37-year-old father-of-two and a lawyer who worked for Mr Browder's company, died in a Russian jail in 2009 after investigating an alleged €175 million embezzlement scam by Russian police.

Mr Browder's remarks come after MEPs in Strasbourg on Thursday endorsed a resolution calling for the EU "to consider imposing an EU entry ban for Russian officials involved in this case and [encouraging] EU law enforcement agencies to co-operate in freezing bank accounts and other assets of these Russian officials in all EU member states."

Mr Browder pointed out that Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski in a letter to left-wing Polish MP Ryszard Kalisz in September said Warsaw would consider backing a visa ban if "international institutions [establish] a list of persons, who were involved in the death."

The Hermitage Capital list of 60 names includes: Alexei Anichin, the head of the Investigative Committee in the Russian interior ministry; Viktor Voronin, the chief of the FSB's Economic Espionage cell; Viktor Grin, the Deputy General Prosecutor; Dmitriy Komnov, head of pre-trial detention at the Butyrka prison; Larisa Litvinova, chief of medical care at the jail; and 11 judges.

Mr Browder added: "It is surprising that the Russian government and the Russian parliament have so aggressively defended known torturers and murderers, which translates this crime from an individual crime of corrupt officials into a state-sponsored crime."

European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone confirmed that under the Schengen Border Code: "If someone is put on the list by a state of the Schengen Area, then other countries cannot give visas to the person that is in the system ... That's how it works."

For their parts, Finnish green MEP Heidi Hautala and Dutch liberal deputy Marietje Schaake, the authors of the parliament's Magnitsky resolution, which was inserted into a broader report on EU human rights policy, said in an emailed statement: "It is our wish that none of these sanctions will ever have to be put in place. Instead, we hope to receive the news without delay that effective investigations ... have finally commenced."

A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said: "We share the concern over the case and that is why the issue was raised at the EU-Russia summit last week. We are following closely the steps [Russian] President Medvedev has taken to address this issue."

The Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, who was in Strasbourg on Thursday, could not immediately be contacted for a comment. But the Russian Duma earlier warned that if the Hautala-Schaake proposal got through: "Relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union will be seriously damaged."

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