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U.S. House Panel Approves 'Magnitsky' Bill

Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in police custody in 2009.
Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in police custody in 2009.
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. House of Representatives panel has approved a bill that seeks to deny visas to more than 60 Russian officials implicated in the death of Russian anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

The bill also aims to freeze the officials' U.S. assets.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved on a voice vote the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act" despite opposition by the Obama administration and Russian warnings that the legislation could threaten bilateral relations.

Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 after implicating top officials in a complex scheme to defraud the Russian government of $230 million.

He died after nearly a year in pretrial detention, during which he was denied medical care and subjected to torturous conditions.

Many in the U.S. Congress favor the bill as a trade-off for lifting trade restrictions on Russia.

"The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 is a very important piece of legislation," said Representative Howard Berman (California), the committee's top democrat.

"Later this year Congress may consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik provisions concerning emigration from Russia and granting Russia permanent normal trade relations, but if we are to consider such changes to our trade law, it should be done in conjunction with legislation to address serious human rights violations in Russia."

The legislation still faces a battle before it can become law, however, as the Senate has delayed considering its version of the bill.

Similar bills are also currently pending in several Western parliaments, including in Britain and Canada.
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