By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday evening in the House, Dominic Raab introduced the following motion:
"That this House notes the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Bill through the United States Senate, the Bill to condemn corruption and impunity in Russia in the case and death of Sergei Magnitsky in the House of Commons in Canada, the approval of the resolution of the Dutch Parliament concerning Sergei Magnitsky dated 29 June 2011, and paragraphs I and 20 to 21 of the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 December 2011 on the EU-Russia Summit; and calls on the Government to bring forward equivalent legislative proposals providing for a presumption in favour of asset freezes and travel bans for officials of the Russian state and other countries, wherever the appropriate UK authorities have collected or received evidence that establishes that such officials:
(a) were involved in the detention, physical abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;
(b) participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;
(c) committed the frauds discovered by Sergei Magnitsky; or
(d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966."
Mr Raab outlined the cause for which Mr Magnitsky died:
"The debate was inspired by the brutal death of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer. Between 2007 and 2008, while working for Hermitage Capital, he exposed the biggest tax fraud in Russian history, worth $230 million. His legal team was then subjected to varying forms of intimidation. While other lawyers left Russia, fearing for their lives, Magnitsky stayed on to make a stand for the rule of law in Russia and strike a blow against the breathtaking corruption there. That bravery cost him his life. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. In Putin’s Kafkaesque Russian justice system, the very tax investigators that Magnitsky had exposed turned up to arrest him."
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt responded on behalf of the Government:
"The circumstances of his death are deeply troubling… The fact that no one has been held to account for it is a matter of serious concern to the Government, and we raise the issue with the Russian authorities at the highest levels and at frequent intervals… The death of Sergei Magnitsky serves as a stark reminder of the human rights situation in Russia and the questions about the rule of law there. My remarks will cover both the specific and the general."
A note of controversy surrounded the debate. The Russian Ambassador to London wrote to Mr Speaker in an attempt to intervene on the debate:
"Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Did the Russian ambassador write to you to try to prevent this debate?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful for that point of order… I can tell the House that I received a letter from the Russian ambassador, drawing my attention to what he regarded as the errors contained in the motion and the merit of what he thought to be that fact—I emphasise that this was what he thought to be that fact—being communicated to the sponsors of the debate. I replied to the ambassador, noting his letter and underlining to him that he must not expect me, as an impartial Speaker, to comment on the contents of either the letter or the motion. I reminded him of the date of the debate, and indicated that if he wished to communicate his views in writing to the sponsors of the debate, it was open to him to do so. I hope that my meaning was clear—that this House debates what it wants to debate and that if other people wish to send letters, they can send letters, but it is not the responsibility of the Speaker to act as a post person."
The House agreed to the motion. The full debate can be read in Hansard.