WASHINGTON -- Two U.S. senators have urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reconsider allowing the visit of two Russian officials allegedly involved in the prosecution and prison death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
In letter dated November 8 that was obtained by RFE/RL, Senators Benjamin Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) and Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi) urged Clinton to “immediately review any visa applications” submitted by Russian Interior Ministry Generals Tatiana Gerasimova and Nikolai Shelepanov.
The officials are due to arrive in Washington early next week to discuss Moscow’s record of enforcing intellectual property rights, which U.S. trade officials have described as a major stumbling block to deeper economic cooperation.
The senators told Clinton that Gerasimova and Shelepanov are "involved in the cynical and sweeping cover-up of the torture and murder of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky as well as the corruption he exposed."
"While safeguarding intellectual property is a laudable goal and one that we share, we are troubled at the prospect of collaborating on this or any issue with those whose good faith and goodwill are so seriously and publicly compromised," the letter says.
Magnitsky was arrested by authorities in 2008 after a case he was working on for the London-based Hermitage Capital Management implicated top officials from Russia's Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, and other agencies in a massive scheme to defraud the government.
The 37-year-old lawyer died in November 2009 after nearly a year in pretrial detention, during which he was repeatedly denied medical care and physically abused.
The senators' letter says that the Russian officials' visit to Washington would be "a bitter irony given the proximity to the second anniversary of Magnitsky's death."
Speaking on the floor of the Senate on the day the letter was submitted, Wicker described Magnitsky's ordeal and urged the Obama administration not to ignore Russia's troubling rights record in its dealings with Moscow.
"We in the Senate should be standing in support of the principled, fearless Russian citizens who have the courage to expose these corrupt abuses -- [and] to expose the brutality and thuggery of their own Russian government," he said. "I urge President [Barack] Obama [and] I urge Secretary Clinton to make human rights and [the] rule of law in Russia a central part of our efforts to reset bilateral relations."
In July, under pressure from Congressmen, the State Department imposed visa bans on dozens of Russian officials connected to the Magnitsky case -- a move that provoked the ire of Moscow.
Twenty-five U.S. senators have also sponsored a bill in the Senate that would both ban visas for and freeze the assets of some 60 Russian officials connected to the case.
-- Richard Solash