Washington Bureau

05.20.14

Obama Targets Russian Mob Boss

The U.S. government has publicly added 12 Russian officials to a list of human right violators but he head of the Russian Investigative Committee may be on a still secret part of that list.

The State and Treasury Departments Tuesday sanctioned a dozen Russian officials under the Magnitsky Act, adding them to a public list of human rights violators subject to asset freezes and visa bans in the United States. But Alexander Bastrykin, the powerful head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, was not on the list, at least the version released to the public. 

The twelve names publicly announced for sanctions Tuesday include Dmitry Klyuev, the alleged kingpin of a Russian organized crime group. 10 of the 12 Russians on the list were associated with the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after being severely tortured. Magnitsky was then posthumously convicted for tax fraud. The judge who convicted Magnitsky after he died, Igor Alisov, was also sanctioned Tuesday.

Bastrykin’s name was conspicuously not on the public list, but administration sources said one name was added to the classified version of the Magnitsky list. Administration officials declined to comment on whether or not that person was Bastrykin. If so, he would be the highest ranking Russian sanctioned thus far under the law.

In January, four senior senators used a provision of the law to force the administration to consider sanctions on Klyuev and Bastrykin. Both had been vetted and prepared for sanctions inside the administration last year but the White House ultimately decided not to add any names to the Magnitsky list at the time.

Using what’s called the “congressional trigger,” Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bob Corker (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Ben Cardin (D-MD), compelled the administration to make a final decision on whether to sanction for Klyuev and Bastrykin. Cardin said Tuesday he was not sure yet if Bastrykin was sanctioned secretly by the administration.

William Browder, a former associate of Magnitsky, who has been a staunch advocated of adding names to the list, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that the Obama administration’s additions to the list were a step in the right direction.

"This is highly significant because it shows that the Magnitsky act will be an ongoing tool of the US government to take away impunity of Russian human rights abusers when the repressions there are increasing so dramatically,” he said. "This came as a result of four senators using a provision in the Magnitsky Act called the congressional trigger. This allows Congress to suggest names of human rights violators to the State department. I'm not sure if this list would ever been published without the intervention of Congress."

One senior GOP Senate aide said Tuesday that the administration’s actions were a day late and a dollar short.

“This list once again demonstrates the administration’s lack of seriousness about Russian human rights violations,” the aide said. “With events in Russia and Ukraine, it is troubling that the administration is so opposed to using this tool and that it required the Senate to force them into action.”

Cardin and McCain now support legislation that would expand the Magnitsky list to cover human rights violators in every country in the world. The adminstration opposed this idea when it was first floated last year.