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
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.