By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation expanding the 2012 U.S. Magnitsky human rights act from Russian citizens to cover abusers in any country passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday as part of an annual defense policy bill, leaving the landmark measure on the verge of becoming law.
The legislation was included in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, setting policy for the Department of Defense, despite the recent election of Republican Donald Trump as the U.S. president.
Trump has signaled a softer line against Russia, which vehemently opposes the original Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, and its expansion.
The Magnitsky Act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian whistleblower.
Backers of the bill have pushed for years to expand its impact to every country, and to make "significant" acts of corruption sanctionable offenses.
"Visiting the United States and using our financial institutions are privileges that should not be extended to the worst actors in the international system," Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
Cardin pushed the measure along with Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, by an overwhelming margin on Dec. 2. The Senate vote sends the measure, including Global Magnitsky, to the White House for President Barack Obama to veto or sign into law.
A White House spokesman said shortly after the NDAA passed that he could not yet say how the president would proceed.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay)