While President Vladimir Putin will be heading next week to Israel for a short visit that will include unveiling the Second World War Red Army memorial in Netanya, and meeting with Israeli top officials, - in Capitol Hill, businessman Bill Browder will be lobbying hard to convince Congressmen that Russia under Putin's third presidential term is not a country that deserves "restart" of relations, not to mention what he calls the "appeasement" of Putin's regime.
Bill Browder, co-founder and CEO of the British Hermitage Capital Management company, invested in Russia only to be pushed out of the country. In 2009, His Moscow lawyer, 37-year-old Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested after he exposed government corruption. While in prison Magnitsky was apparently beaten to death in his cell.
Congress is currently in the process of replacing the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked trade relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union with the USSR's treatment of its Jewish population, with a new law, named after Sergei Magnitsky. The Magnitsky Act is supposed to deny visas to Russian officials accused of human rights violations, and is being harshly criticized by the Kremlin, which warned that its passage would hurt relations between the two countries and could even lead to possible retaliatory steps.
Proponents of the Magnitsky Act are worried that the Obama administration will cave under pressure from Moscow and squash the initiative.
Mr. Browder intends to try to convince U.S. lawmakers and public opinion leaders not to give up on the legislation. Together with Senator McCain and Freedom House President David Kramer, he will also be launching a new movie about Magnitsky and, as he defines it, "how organized crime has completely taken over the Russian government."
"Putin and the Russian Government have been threatening Obama with all sorts of retaliation if the Magnitsky Act passes. It appears that Obama is trying to appease the Russians and do anything to avoid trouble with the Russians trying to water down the bill," he said.
"Fortunately most of our congressional backers from both sides of the aisle are standing firm. There is a lot of confusing information being distributed by opponents of the bill and I want to make sure that all the key players are properly briefed at this crucial moment as the law moves forward."
Some Congressmen think the Magnitsky Act should be universal, not naming Russia specifically. There were also suggestions of "secret annexes" with list of names that will not be revealed publicly.
"We think this law should apply globally," Browder says. "There is no reason why a Syrian human rights abuser should be treated any differently from a Russian. The bill should also specifically name names with no secret annexes. Naming and shaming is where 90% of the power of these sanctions comes from."
On Thursday, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced the conclusions of the investigation against Dmitry Kratov, former head of the detention center where Magnitsky died in November 2009. According to the committee spokesman, the investigation found that Kratov neglected his official duties - including denying Magnitsky medical care while he was suffered from pancreatitis and a heart condition.
Browder says he is not satisfied with the results of the Russian investigation against Kratov.
"The investigation into Kratov is into medical negligence and not torture or murder," he says. "Kratov consistently and deliberately denied Sergei Magnitsky medical attention despite repeated and desperate requests. Based on all the evidence available, if the Russian authorities were conducting this investigation properly, Kratov would be charged with torture and homicide. Furthermore, his prosecution is just a diversion away from the much bigger fish from the Interior Ministry, Prosecutors Office and courts, who tortured and killed Sergei Magnitsky to retaliate against him for blowing the whistle on large scale government corruption."
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