Photo: RIA Novosti
Russia has posthumously convicted lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and his former client William Browder, a British investment fund chief, of tax evasion. Magnitsky died of suspicious circumstances in 2009 in a Moscow prison after leading a campaign to expose corruption in Russia. Browder has led the international campaign to investigate suspicions of foul play surrounding Magnitsky’s death. VOR host Rob Sachs discussed issues related to Magnitsky with two specialists: Kline Preston, president of Kline Preston Law Group (and U.S. observer in Russian Elections), and Alexander Strakanov, director of the Institute of Russian History, Language and Culture at Lyndon State College in Vermont.
VOR: Let’s begin with you, Prof. Strakanov. What do you make of this conviction? It has people in the West up in arms saying this is just another way Russia is showing that it doesn’t care about human rights.
Alexander Strakanov: “I don’t think it’s so much about human rights. What is interesting is that Western media is primarily focusing on court verdict in regards of Magnitsky forgetting that actually verdict was made about two persons – Magnitsky and Browder. And I think for Russian courts, for Russian legal system the second name is much more important. And, surprisingly or not, but it’s primarily avoided in commentaries.”
VOR: Kline Preston, what do you make of this decision?
Kline Preston: “I think it’s going to affect relations because of the Magnitsky Law in the U.S. and because it poses a unique problem for the U.S. – under a legal principle, the different nations should give respective legislative acts. And this will create an issue for the U.S., because now you have an argument that Russian judicial system found Mr. Magnitsky guilty for tax evasion along with William Browder. And the U.S. has the position of arguing that and saying that this was somehow a human rights violation – the way he was treated. “
VOR: EU said this trial sent a disturbing message on those who fight corruption in Russia. U.S. State Department said it was disappointed by the unprecedented criminal conviction against Sergei Magnitsky. And then you had Amnesty International calling this trial “deeply sinister” saying it set a dangerous precedent that could open a whole new chapter in Russian’s worsening human rights record.
Alexander Strakanov: “I think that this is not going to go anywhere and I don’t agree that it will have serious consequences. I doubt it.