Sergei Magnitsky is not that well known in Canada, but in Russia, he’s a household name.
That’s because he was jailed in his homeland on trumped up charges after exposing massive corruption and theft from state enterprises. He died in custody in November 2009 after nearly one year in jail.
Irwin Cotler, the Liberal MP who has followed the Magnitsky case for several years, presented a motion in Parliament about two weeks ago calling for a Magnitsky law. The motion called for legislation that would impose “sanctions against foreign nationals involved in the detention, torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky.”
The motion also asks the government to “explore sanctions as appropriate against any foreign nationals responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights in a foreign country, when authorities in that country are unable or unwilling to conduct a thorough, independent and objective investigation of the violations.”
The motion was adopted unanimously and the Conservative government has indicated it will present a bill to sanction officials in any country that are involved in human rights violations.
Cotler first introduced a private member’s bill about four years ago calling for a Magnitsky law. The bill called for asset freezes and travel restrictions, among other measures.
Cotler noted that Boris Nemtsov, one of the most prominent liberal politicians and opposition leaders in Russia, had been a supporter of Magnitsky legislation in Europe to address Russia’s “culture of corruption.”
Nemtsov had come to Ottawa three years ago to show his support for Cotler’s Magnitsky law proposal.
“He called on us to do what we are doing now,” Cotler said. “I’m pleased, but it’s in remembrance not only of a great hero, Sergei Magnitsky, but the great hero of the human rights movements in Russia, Boris Nemtsov.”
“Nemtsov was the leading global advocate for Magnitsky legislation and sanctions. He was a strong supporter outside of Canada for the adoption of this legislation within Canada,” Cotler said.
Nemtsov was assassinated in Moscow on Feb. 27. He had criticized widespread official corruption in Russia and had objected to Russian involvement in Ukraine.
Magnitsky was a lawyer and auditor who was hired by Hermitage Capital Management to investigate charges of tax fraud that the company was facing.
Hermitage’s co-founder and CEO, Bill Browder, had invested in Russia and had revealed widespread corruption in the country before he was barred from re-entering the country.
During his investigation, Magnitsky uncovered a $230-million tax fraud. He was arrested soon afterward.