Russia says will retaliate if Britain has blacklisted officials
MOSCOW - Russia said on Monday it would retaliate if Britain confirmed a media report that it could ban dozens of Russian officials from entering the country for their alleged roles in the 2009 prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said it had asked Britain whether it had blacklisted 60 people including judges, intelligence officers and prosecutors, as a newspaper reported. The ministry did not say what a Russian diplomatic response could entail.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer for an equity fund, died about a year after he was jailed on charges of tax evasion and fraud.
Former colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the Russian state through fraudulent tax returns.
The Kremlin's own human rights council has said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.
Britain's Sunday Times reported that Home Secretary Theresa May had sent a list of 60 Russians to the British embassy in Moscow and that they could be banned from entering Britain.
"We have ... asked the official British authorities for confirmation or denial of this information," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
"We will determine our reaction depending on the answer," he said. "Obviously, if London has introduced some sanctions against Russian citizens, the Russian side will react, as is accepted in diplomatic practice."
A diplomatic dispute over the Magnitsky case would further strain relations between Britain and Russia. The countries have been at odds over security, diplomatic and human rights issues for years, particularly since the 2006 murder in London of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died from poisoning with radioactive polonium-210.
In December 2010, Britain expelled a diplomat from the Russian embassy in London. It said this was in response to "clear evidence" of activities by the Russian intelligence services against British interests.
Russia responded days later by expelling a diplomat from the British embassy in Moscow.
The Magnitsky case has also strained ties between Russia and the United States. A U.S. Senate panel in June approved a bill, sharply criticised by Moscow, that would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky's death, along with other human rights abusers in Russia or anywhere in the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Magnitsky's death a tragedy, but said Moscow would retaliate against the bill.
The British embassy could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Britain's policy is not to comment on individual cases involving visa applications or denials.
Russian news agency Interfax quoted a British embassy representative as saying visa applicants are usually denied entry if they are found to have violated human rights.
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