November 2018 / News

McCain’s Legacy & The Magnitsky Act

Claire Green

Hart Regional Director for Europe

Hart’s Regional Director for Europe, Claire Green, attended a discussion about John McCain’s legacy and the Magnitsky Act – and the impact that it is making against government corruption almost a decade since it was passed.

Magnitsky Act

Exactly nine years ago today, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Russian prison following a year of torture. He was just 37 years old. His ‘crime’ was uncovering the theft of $230 million of state taxes. I went to the House of Commons yesterday to hear directly from the man he worked for, Bill Browder, and daughter of the late US Senator John McCain (Meghan McCain) to find out how, thanks to them, the Magnitsky Act is a thorn in the side of human rights abusers and corrupt officials – globally.

Bill Browder was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005 when he was barred from the country for exposing corruption in Russian state-owned companies. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, discovered massive fraud and testified against state officials. Magnitsky was imprisoned without trial and systematically tortured for a year until his death in prison on 16 November 2009 – nine years ago today. At just 37 years old he left behind a wife and two children.

Since then, Bill Browder has dedicated his life to campaigning for global support to impose targeted visa bans and asset freezes on corrupt officials and human rights abusers. He enlisted the support of John McCain, who’s famous tenacity helped ensure the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act was adopted by the United States (2012). It passed the senate 92:4 and the House of Representatives by 82%.

President Putin failed to have the act repealed, and subsequently failed to have the name ‘Sergei Magnitsky’ removed. Indeed, the Global Magnitsky Act was passed in 2016, which broadened the scope so that the legislation applied globally. Other countries have followed suit including Canada, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The UK passed the act 6 months ago; a significant moment of moral clarity given the dependence on the City.

The beauty of the act is that there is no need for cases to be tied-up in criminal proceedings that can last years. With sufficient evidence a person can be put on the sanctions list.

To be clear, this act targets individuals, not countries. The beauty of the act is that there is no need for cases to be tied-up in criminal proceedings that can last years. Quite simply, with sufficient evidence a person can be put on the sanctions list. Money obtained through corruption is invariably exported (think London property and spending sprees at Harrod’s*), so the idea is to paralyse and hit them where it hurts. Deny them entry and deny them a route for export.

I also heard from Vladimir Kara-Murza, once an opposition party leader in Russia. Surviving two poison attacks, he may never be told exactly what poisoned him, such is the sensitivity around this case. Vladimir was candid and clear in his speech; indeed, all the panellists were, in what was a refreshing change to some of the restrained (PC) briefings I have attended.

So where did the stolen $230 million finally turn up? In Europe.

So where did the stolen $230 million finally turn up? In Europe. More specifically, Denmark. Danske Bank was found to be responsible for laundering $200 million of it. Bill Browder funded an entire team of forensic investigators. Guess what they found? $234 billion (that’s BILLION in case you missed it) laundered by Danske Bank for the Russians. Moreover, the Danish financial conduct authority was found to be complicit. (Watch out for the imminent implication of other banks.)

The Netherlands currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and as such they have the privilege of influencing the agenda at summits. This week, on 20th of November, they will be hosting the 28 members states of the EU to discuss the Magnitsky Act, but without the name Magnitsky. How utterly sad that the name of the man who gave his life will be dropped from the act, while various European states (who benefit by importing stolen billions) kowtow to external pressures and foreign policy manoeuvring.

Regardless of what political party you support or country you come from, it’s hard not to be moved by Meghan’s tribute to her late father. And of course, Bill Browden’s passion, as he makes it his life’s work to get justice for his murdered lawyer. Along with Vladimir Kara-Murza, Kyle Parker and host Ian Austin MP, this was a truly inspiring panel event organised by the Henry Jackson Society, on what was a particularly ominous day in Westminster.

*The new UK ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ sends a clear message to money launderers. The wife of an Azeri banker is currently in UK custody in relation to £33 million in London homes and a £16 million spend in Harrod’s store.