NARRATIVES: 1. The Romanian Parliament is preparing, out of obedience to the United States, an anti-Russian law designed for a corrupt lawyer. 2. Russia applied the law in the case concerning lawyer Sergey Magnitsky and the head of Hermitage Capital, W. Browder, both accused of tax evasion to the detriment of the Russian state. 3. Even if we admit that Magnitsky was subjected to ill-treatment, the Embassy claims in its post, it was by far milder than that applied by the US at the Guantanamo base to terrorist suspects.
LOCAL CONTEXT / ETHOS: The Chamber of Deputies, the decision-making body on this matter, is following the due legislative course, after the positive vote received in the Senate in October 2019 and should vote or not by the end of the month on the draft "Magnitsky Law" on sanctions for foreign citizens responsible for serious human rights violations.
According to the USR deputies who drafted this bill in 2018, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) will draw up a list of foreign nationals about whom there is information or serious reasons to suspect that they have been involved in or contributed to high-level corruption, money laundering or human rights violations, which resulted in the death or serious injury of a person. Foreign citizens on this list will be banned from entering Romania, and their funds in Romania will be frozen, the authors say.
Several Russian oligarchs own large businesses in Romania, such as the aluminum and derivatives company Alro Slatina owned by the oligarch Vasile Mashitsky. He is on the US list of sanctions too, so there is a danger that, in the event of the adoption of the Magnitsky Law in Romania as well, his assets in Romania - Alro Slatina – may be frozen. In fact, in 2018, Mashitsky tried to list the company on the Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB) against the background of potential US sanctions on its EU properties.
As regards the global context, it’s true that the Magnitsky Act first appeared in the United States in 2012, with the specific purpose of punishing those suspected of being guilty of arresting and then contributing to the death in prison of that lawyer. In 2017, however, the scope of the law was expanded so that people who violate human rights anywhere in the world, regardless of their nationality, can be punished.
As of late 2020, the European Union has a Magnitsky law too, under which it can sanction people who violate human rights or entities involved in such abuses.
On November 24, 2008, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was arrested after revealing details of a $ 230 million fraud, money that allegedly went from the "Hermitage Capital" international fund into the pockets of senior Russian Interior Ministry officials. After 358 days of inhumane detention, Magnitsky eventually died.
Investigators claimed that his death was caused by heart failure, but an independent investigation by the Kremlin's Human Rights Council found that Magnitsky had been brutally beaten shortly before his death and that his death had been caused by the said injuries.
The Magnitsky Act has been applied globally since 2016, authorizing the US government to sanction those officials believed to have violated human rights, by freezing their assets and banning them from entering the United States.
PURPOSE: To plant the idea that Romania is just a "colony" of the USA, which Romanian legislators blindly listen to and are just tools in the hands of the West.
Russia wants to avoid Romanian sanctions on Russian officials or oligarchs and at the same time to prevent a new EU and NATO member country from joining an international list of such countries that have adopted the "Magnitsky Law" in its original form.
Russia also wants to prevent Romania from entering the list of countries that discuss the Magnitsky Law in a national form, such as France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, Ukraine or even the Republic of Moldova, as shows in the recitals of the bill.
Moreover, a plethora of Russian oligarchs own businesses in Romanian industry. The adoption of the law in question in Romania could endanger their business. Therefore, the concern of the Russian embassy has more to do with defending the material interests of the Russian oligarchs in Romania in the oil and steel industry.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: No current Magnitsky law specifically targets Russia, even if they are so named in the lawyer's memory and with reference to the bill passed in the United States in 2012. The target of the current laws - including the Romanian one - are people responsible for serious human rights violations anywhere in the world; Russian citizens risk sanctions under these laws only if they are guilty of such violations.
The arguments in the Russian Embassy's post are set out in the "what about" technique, generically known as "whataboutism or whataboutery", which calls into question alleged violations of the human rights of the terrorist suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo, in an attempt to divert attention from the central issue - the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky following the beatings he received in prison in 2009. The subliminal message is also that Magnitsky's death, whether or not it was caused by ill-treatment, does not compare to what the US has done at Guantanamo with hundreds or thousands of terrorist suspects.
The Russian arguments refer only to the tax evasion case concerning Magnitsky and his employer William Browder, the president of the Hermitage Capital fund.
Then, the Embassy makes reference to the Magnitsky case tried in Switzerland, citing very skillfully truncated statements by Swiss prosecutors. In fact, the Swiss prosecutors have not yet closed the case, but the statements of the Russian Embassy lead in this direction.
Moreover, Swiss prosecutors are currently investigating former Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, who allegedly received favors from Russia, while investigating the Magnitsky case and another bribery scandal involving FIFA and Moscow.
In May 2020, the Swiss federal prosecutor made further complaints when he said he would share sensitive information about the case with the Kremlin.
Swiss prosecutors claimed in June 2020 that Lauber's deputy, whom they called "Viktor K", was the person who reported to Lauber and advised him on the complicated cases concerning the "white-collar mafia" in Russia. Prosecutors learned that "Viktor K" had participated in a bear hunting expedition in Kamchatka in August 2016 along with several Russian officials.
"Viktor K" claimed that he did not know who exactly was behind the trip, for which flights to Russia were organized, as well as private helicopters to take a small group to hunt in Siberia. He also told the court he had no idea who paid for it, speculating that it could have been one of several Russian oligarchs.
Thus, the argument of the Russian Embassy regarding the correctness of the investigation of the Magnitsky case in Switzerland is at least called into question in the light of these ongoing events by the Swiss judiciary.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: Indeed, there was a case of tax evasion in Russia, which involved lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and his boss from Hermitage Capital, Willian Browder. However, the money that was allegedly not paid to the state would go into the pockets of high-ranking Russian dignitaries from the Ministry of Interior who tried to cover up this information disclosed by Sergei Magnitsky.
THE NARRATIVES BENEFIT: The Kremlin and Russian oligarchs with businesses in Romania whose assets could be jeopardized by the adoption of such a law in Romania. Russia also fears the trend might spread across Europe, where Russian oligarchs own valuable property, businesses and assets.