Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Magnitsky Act

I have been trying to get my head lately around the extraordinary regime (exacerbated by the fallout from Russia's assault on Ukraine) in which people are sanctioned; their assets frozen, transactions with UK individuals and businesses prohibited, and travel banned. Roman Abramovich being perhaps the most high profile target that tabloid readers such as myself would recognize.

It seems astonishing to me that such draconian measures can be imposed without any recourse to appeal or duty of detailed exposition. And I worry that a dangerous precedent has been set; the genie is out of the bottle and that in future the government will be able to hang anyone out to dry on the flimsiest of pretexts.

As far as I can tell the starting pistol for this lamentable assault on jurisprudence was 2012's Magnitsky Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012. 

In 2009, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. Magnitsky was accused of committing the fraud himself by Russian officials and detained. While in prison, Magnitsky developed gall stones, pancreatitis and calculous cholecystitis and was not given medical treatment for months. After almost a year of imprisonment, he was beaten to death while in custody.

Magnitsky's friend Bill Browder, a prominent American-born businessman working extensively in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, publicized the case and lobbied American officials to pass legislation sanctioning Russian individuals involved in corruption. Browder brought the case to Senators Benjamin Cardin and John McCain, who proceeded to propose legislation.

My and our hearts go out to the Magnitskys, but hard cases make bad law: viz The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

'Nuff said. "This one will run and run."

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