Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Investigation

Russian officials: Banned by the US, on holiday in the EU

Russian officials banned from entering the US on accusations of corruption and conspiracy to murder are frequent visitors in EU cities, leaked information shows.

Pavel Karpov, a senior investigator in the Russian interior ministry, Artem Kuznetsov from the ministry's economic crimes unit, and Olga Stepanova, a director in the Moscow tax authority, are on a list of 18 persona non grata published by the US state department on 12 April.

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  • Shopping in Milan? Magnitsky-tainted officials are frequent visitors in EU cities (Photo: xiquinhosilva)

All 18 were banned for their parts in an affair involving embezzlement of Russian tax money and the death of the man who exposed them - Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky.

But Karpov, Kuznetsov and Stepanova stand out as leading protagonists.

Karpov and Kuznetsov organised the seizure of corporate seals and documents from Magnitsky's former employer, British investment firm Hermitage Capital, to expedite the fraud.

Kuznetsov also organised Magnitsky's arrest and pre-trial detention, in which he died.

Meanwhile, Stepanova authorised a tax refund of $153 million, which flowed into the private bank of Dmitry Kluyev, a convicted criminal, who laundered the money in the EU and in Switzerland.

Karpov, Kuznetsov and Stepanova earn modest salaries.

But since the events, which took place between 2007 and 2009, they have bought luxury homes, cars and other assets worth more than $42 million.

For its part, the European Parliament has urged EU countries to create a US-type Magnitsky list.

Magnitsky's mother, Natalia Magnitskaya, also told EUobserver in London last year that while the US decision has symbolic value, only an EU ban would have real bite.

"They are more scared of this because they do not really travel to the US so much, but they do travel to Europe," she said.

Documents leaked from the Russian border control service - seen by EUobserver and by the BBC - back up her statement.

The records show that since 2004, Karpov took just two trips to the US: he went to Washington on 23 September 2006 and to New York on 1 October the same year.

But he visited EU countries 17 times.

In 2006, he went on three short trips - to Larnaca and to Paphos in Cyprus and to London. In 2007, he was in Larnaca, in London and in the Italian city of Milan. In 2008, he was in Rome and in Vienna. In 2009, he went to Madrid. In 2010, he was in the German city of Frankfurt and in London.

Last year, he was in Europe more often.

He went to Paris in May. He was in Verona, Italy, for a week in July/August. He went to Rome on 17 November and three days later he went on a four-day trip to Munich in Germany

Kuznetsov and Stepanova did not visit the US even once.

But they have also been in and out of the EU.

Kuznetsov went to London in 2006. He was in Larnaca once, in Rome twice and in Paris twice the following year. In 2008, he went to Rome again. In May 2009, he spent three weeks in Milan.

Stepanova was in Rome in December 2004. She spent a week in Nice, France, in April 2005. She was in Milan in January 2006.

She went to Paris with her then husband, Vladlen Stepanov, in April the same year. They also spent five days in Paris in April 2007, a week in Larnaca in May 2007 and 10 days in Paris in March 2008.

Kluyev himself - the alleged mastermind of the scam - visited the EU at least 51 times.

The Russian officials and Kluyev sometimes travelled together.

Kluyev and Karpov went to Larnaca in 2006 and 2007. Kluyev also joined the Stepanovs in Paris in 2006.

Despite the EU parliament's appeals, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which has formal powers to propose sanctions, shows no sign of taking action.

EU institutions also find it hard to stick to one line.

Before the EU-Russia summit last week, an EU source told press in Brussels that Magnitsky is an "internal" matter for Russia. But EEAS chief Catherine Ashton later backtracked and mentioned the case in Russian media.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso urged Russia to carry out a proper investigation.

But Russia shut down the investigation already in January, finding no one guilty.

The EU parliament is now trying a new hook.

Forty seven MEPs last week sent a letter to EU foreign ministers saying they will use parliament's power to veto a proposed EU-Russia visa treaty if the EEAS does not take action.

But the parliament is also wobbly.

It is unclear if MEPs want a US-model ban on the 18 officials, on the 18 plus other people such as Kluyev, or on up to 60 officials on a separate list by US senator Ben Cardin.

It is equally unclear how they plan to wield their veto on the visa pact.

A parliament source said MEPs might push for Russian NGO leaders and students to get visa-free EU access instead of pressing for a Magnitsky ban.

MEPs are also considering a commission idea to let Russian officials, or "service passport" holders, enter the EU without a visa, but to say the new perk cannot apply to Magnitsky-tainted names.

EUobserver receives human rights prize

EUobserver journalist Andrew Rettman has received the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award for coverage of the deteriorating situation in Russia.

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