Senate panel backs "Magnitsky" sanctions on Russia

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 26, 2012 2:43 PM
Senate panel backs "Magnitsky" sanctions on Russia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would penalize Russian officials for human rights abuses, a measure with broad support in Congress that Russia protests would be an unwarranted intrusion into its internal affairs.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act" named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in Russian jails. It is sponsored by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.

The bill would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky's death, as well as those of other human rights abusers. A similar version passed a House of Representatives committee earlier this month but has yet to come to a vote in the full House.

Despite bipartisan support in Congress, the measure's future prospects remain uncertain, in part because the Obama administration is unenthusiastic about it.

The administration's position has prompted some supporters of the Magnitsky bill to threaten not to vote for a White House priority this year - establishing permanent normal trade relations with Russia - unless the Magnitsky bill is attached.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has promised to add the Magnitsky measure to the legislation on trade relations with Russia when his committee votes on the trade bill later this summer.

The death in police custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian who worked for the equity fund Hermitage Capital in Moscow, spooked investors and blackened Russia's image abroad. The Kremlin's own human rights council says he was probably beaten to death.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin this month called Magnitsky's death a tragedy, but said Moscow would retaliate if the Magnitsky bill is passed. "If there will be restrictions on entry to (the) U.S. for some Russian citizens, then there will be restrictions for entry to Russia for some Americans," Putin said.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham)