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MOSCOW, July 13 (Itar-Tass) — A delegation of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia parliament has visited Washington DC in order to try and convince the members of U.S. Congress to revise their stance on the so-called ‘Magnitsky law’. Delegation members presented the documents, which they think testify to the fact that the auditor of the Hermitage Capital fund, Sergei Magnitsky had been arrested on legitimate grounds but had become a victim of medical negligence.
Members of the Federation Council who took part in the visit claim their U.S. counterparts have promised to scrutinize all the papers but experts say this initiative will scarcely produce any changes in the U.S. stance on the Magnitsky case.
Kommersant Daily recalls that the U.S. Senate’s finance committee is due to begin hearings of the Magnitsky law, which envisions a ban on entering the Russian officials related to Magnitsky’s death,
On the eve of the session that has a key significance for the adoption of the law, a group of Federation Council members brought the results of their identical investigation to Washington. “These are the invaluable materials that haven’t been published anywhere anytime,” Vitaly Malkin, a deputy chief of the Federation Council’s foreign policy committee assured the U.S. interlocutors. Conclusions made by the group make up a 14-page document. The copies of investigation documents and the detailed patterns for the withdrawal of capitals to foreign countries by employees of investment companies constitute another 32 pages.
Members of the upper house of Russian parliament believe Sergei Magnitsky joined a criminal grouping set up by employees of the Hermitage Capital and Firestone Duncan companies. Starting from 1997 they used umbrella firms to buy up the shares of Russian companies. The monies obtained in this way were then remitted to offshore bank accounts, and illicit financial schemes were used to minimize taxation.
Russian law enforcement agencies took an interest in the operations of the grouping after it embezzled 5.4 billion rubles from Russia’s state budget in the fall of 2007 with the aid of fake documents.
The Federation Council’s Conclusions say that most staff members of both Hermitage Foundation and Firestone left Russia urgently soon after it. Magnitsky, too, was getting ready to go. He even made a photo for a new passport, although he had crossed the Russian border very seldom before that.
The Russian upper house has asked the U.S. counterparts to draw a line between the investigation of Sergei Magnitsky’s death and the investigation of Hermitage capital operations. Vitaly Malkin mentioned the Hermitage CEO, Bill Browder, made multibillion profits in Russia but concealed the money from the agencies of state power.
“Magnitsky was an auditor and his company gave financial legal and financial services to Browder for a number of years,” he said.
Well-informed Congressional sources told Kommersant the Russian MP’s initiative will unlikely bring about any change in the Congressmen’s and Senators’ moods. The Magnitsky law enjoys the support of the absolute majority of members of both the House of Representative and the Senate and its approval is just a matter of time, a source at the foreign policy committee of the Senate said.
In most probability, both houses will have a voting on the law before the end of July.
“This visit may even have a deplorable impact on the situation, as the Federation Council delegated the people very little known either in Russia or in the U.S. and thus devoid of any authority,” the RBC daily quotes Nikolai Zlobin, the director of Russian and Asian programs at the U.S. Center for Defense Information. Very definitely, members of the Congress will not change their opinion on the law and, more than that, they may feel insulted by the fact that some people without authority have been sent to persuade them.
“No one in the U.S. understands why Russia is viewing this law as a step against itself,” Zlobin said. “They think they’re helping Putin and Medvedev to clamp down on corruption.”
“It’s good that Federation Council members went to the U.S. on this mission, but the problem is this was to be done half a year ago when this law could still be blocked and the infliction of damage to Russia’s reputation could be avoided,” says Sergei Karaganov, the president of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy.