It was 13 years ago this month that Sergei Magnitsky was killed in Moscow’s Butyrka prison. Just seven days before he would have had to have been released if he was not brought to trial after almost a year spent in custody.
Of all the murders committed by the authorities in Moscow during the Putin era, the killing of Sergei Magnitsky is the one they will regret the most.
The tragedy of this young man, a 37-year-old tax advisor, his wife Natalia and their two sons, turned into a global commemoration, whose goal was to ensure that no corrupt state official, who tortured or killed an innocent person for money, escaped from justice.
Sergei’s last name has become a brand name for laws that stand in the way of anyone who thinks they can get away with torture in order to hide their theft of public money.
Russian aggression against Ukraine came as a natural climax of kleptocratic rule, the basis of which were the reasons why Sergei Magnitsky was first arrested, and after a year of torture, killed.
He “stepped on the tail” of Putin’s corrupt octopus for some 230 million dollars, which was the amount stolen from the state budget by a group of civil servants, for which they intended to accuse Sergei’s client, Bill Browder’s Hermitage Fund.
If Putin and his gang could have known how much trouble that little tax auditor Magnitsky would bring them, they would have given up 230 million dollars, which is a pittance for their empire, without thinking.
But the lack of forgiveness when there is a threat to their pockets is in the blood of mafia organizations, like this one in Moscow. It would have been the same for Sergei Magnitsky if he had shed light on the robbery of 100 dollars, let alone 230 million dollars.
Through the persistence and sacrifice of Bill Browder, Sergei’s employer from his Moscow days, his sacrifice turned into a “sword of vengeance” against all those who would use torture and murder to cover up the theft they had committed in any part of the world.
In December it will be 10 years since the first Magnitsky Act, the one in the United States Congress, was passed. It was a historic event for global justice and the day when the fight against torture and corruption acquired a revolutionary weapon, whose effectiveness will soon be confirmed in action.
Due to its simplicity, originality and lethality, the Magnitsky Act will move very quickly throughout the free world as a generally accepted model for the fight against high-level international corruption. It has proven to be the most effective model seen so far for punishing state officials, for whose corruption and human rights violations there is no remedy in their own domestic legal systems.
Laws based on the Magnitsky model operate in more than 30 countries and legal-economic entities in the world, including the richest and most influential ones – the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and the European Union. These are also the favourite places where thugs from around the world want to keep their money and property, which they stole from their own people.
They wisely chose those safe harbours to store their billions in, because they are safe, stable, democratic and fair, unlike their homelands, which they destroyed themselves, and they know it well.
In the case of Russia, those safe havens turned into the “collective West” overnight, as the Kremlin’s propaganda christened them and declared them the arch-enemy, against whom they started a war of extermination. This happened the moment that Magnitsky Act states froze their billions in banks, their mega-yachts in ports, jet planes in airports and shareholdings in global companies.
By invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Putin and the Kremlin committed a colossal violation of human rights, unprecedented in the world since World War II. From Ukraine, they received a military response on the ground, from which they will not be able to recover, and a legal response from the rest of civilization in the form of the Magnitsky Act.
As effective as Ukraine’s military defense is against the Russian invasion force, the sanctions regime against hundreds of corrupt thugs from the upper echelons of the Russian state is even more effective.
On Feb. 24 Magnitsky sanctions became a generally accepted civilizational invention for the fight against thugs and thieves, something like a vaccine that received a global certificate for widespread use against infectious diseases.
Nothing could have hit the heart of the corrupt Kremlin regime as effectively as Western sanctions based on the Magnitsky Act. The bug in the ineffectiveness of previous sanctions, when the targets were entire states and the real victims were ordinary people, while their corrupt leaders became even richer and crueller in isolation, was removed.
Magnitsky Act sanctions hit specific bullies, with their first and last names, like laser-guided missiles they hit only the selected target, without damaging anyone or anything in the vicinity.
And when Moscow says that the “collective West” is punishing the whole of Russia, not only individuals, they are mostly right.
But that only shows the extent to which corruption and violence as a model of life has metastasized throughout the country, its economy and state administration.
The citizens of Russia did not agree to live in such a social model by chance or by mistake. They vote for it and support it for more than two decades.
With the same fervour, they support the aggression against neighbouring Ukraine, celebrating it as a decisive step towards realizing the myth of “historical Russia”.
This delusion, like any other, has its price and everyone will pay for it, not only those from the top who find themselves on Western sanctions lists.
The pinnacle of justice to proceed from the Magnitsky Act would be the decision to unfreeze the money of Russian oligarchs and politicians and channel it towards rebuilding destroyed Ukraine.
This is being discussed in Europe and there are many who oppose this plan, which is natural, because in Europe, unlike Russia, laws and democracy are actually taken into account.
The permanent confiscation of dirty Russian money, and especially its investment in the rebuilding of Ukraine, would be the final triumph of Magnitsky legislation and its greatest tribute to murdered Sergei and the hundreds of other victims of corrupt thugs around the globe. It would be the ultimate tribute to their sacrifices not being in vain.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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