A few days ago were 13 years since Sergei Magnitsky was killed in the Butyrka prison in Moscow. Seven days before he would have had to be released if he was not brought to trial after almost a year he spent in custody. Of all the murders committed by the authorities in Moscow during the era of Vladimir Putin, the murder of Sergei Magnitsky is the one they will regret the most.
The tragedy of this young man, a 37-year-old tax advisor, his wife Natalia and their two sons, turned into a global commemoration, the goal of which was to ensure that no corrupt state official, who tortured or killed an innocent person for money, escaped from justice. Sergei’s last name has become a brand name for laws that stand in the way of anyone who thinks they can get away with torture in order to hide their theft of public money.
The Russian aggression against Ukraine came as a natural climax of a kleptocratic rule, the basis of which were the reasons for which Sergei Magnitsky was first arrested, and after a year of torture, killed. He “stepped on the tail” of Putin’s corrupt octopus for some 230 million dollars, which was the amount of the theft from the state budget by the organization of civil servants, for which they intended to accuse Sergei’s client, the Hermitage investment fund.
If Putin and his gang could have known how much trouble that little tax auditor Magnitsky would bring them, they would have given up 230 million dollars, which is a pittance for their empire, without thinking. But the lack of forgiveness when their pockets are in danger is in the blood of mafia organizations, such as this one in Moscow. It would have been the same for Sergei Magnitsky if he had shed light on the robbery of 100 dollars, let alone 230 million.
Through the persistence and sacrifice of Bill Browder, Sergei’s employer from the Moscow days, his sacrifice turned into a “sword of vengeance” against all those who would use torture and murder to cover up the theft they had committed in any part of the world. In December, it will be ten years since the first Magnitsky Act, the one in the United States Congress, was passed. It was a historic event for global justice and the day when the fight against torture and corruption acquired a revolutionary weapon, the effectiveness of which will soon be confirmed in action.
Due to its simplicity, originality and lethality, the Magnitsky Act will spread very quickly throughout the free world as a generally accepted model for the fight against high level international corruption. It has proven to be the most effective model yet seen for punishing state officials, for whose corruption and human rights violations there is no remedy in their domestic legal systems. Laws based on the Magnitsky model operate in more than 30 countries and legal-economic entities in the world, including the richest and most influential ones – the USA, Great Britain, Canada and the European Union. These are also the favourite places where thugs from around the world want to keep their money and property, stolen from their own people.
They wisely chose those safe harbours to store their billions in, because they are safe, stable, democratic and fair, unlike their homelands, which they destroyed themselves, and they know it well. In the case of Russia, those safe havens overnight turned into the “collective West”, as the Kremlin propaganda christened them and declared them the arch-enemy, against whom they started a war until extermination. This happened the moment the Magnitsky-states froze their billions in banks, their mega-yachts in ports, jet planes in airports and shares in global companies.
On February 24, by invading Ukraine, Putin and the Kremlin committed a colossal violation of human rights, unprecedented in the world since World War II. From Ukraine, they received a military response on the ground, from which they will not be able to recover, and from the rest of civilization a legal response in the form of the Magnitsky Act. As effective as Ukraine’s military defence is against the Russian invasion force, the sanctions regime against hundreds of corrupt thugs from the top of the Russian state is even more effective. On February 24, Magnitsky sanctions became a generally accepted civilizational invention for the fight against thugs and thieves, something like a vaccine that received a global certificate for widespread use against infectious diseases.
Nothing could have hit the heart of the corrupt Kremlin regime as effectively as Western sanctions based on the Magnitsky Act. The bug in the ineffectiveness of previous sanctions, when the targets were entire states and the real victims were ordinary people, while their corrupt leaders became even richer and crueller in isolation was removed. Magnitsky sanctions hit specific bullies, with first and last name. Like laser-guided missiles they hit only the selected target, without damaging anyone or anything in the vicinity.
And when the Moscow says that the “collective West” is punishing the whole of Russia, not only individuals, they are mostly right. But that only shows the extent to which corruption and violence as a model of life has metastasized throughout the country, its economy and state administration. The citizens of Russia did not agree to live in such a social model by chance, nor by mistake. They vote for it and support it for more than two decades. With the same fervour, they support the aggression against neighbouring Ukraine, celebrating it as a decisive step towards the realization of the myth of “historical Russia”. This delusion, like any other, has its price and everyone will pay for it, not only those from the top who are on the Western sanctions lists.
The pinnacle of justice brought by the Magnitsky Act would be the decision to unfreeze the money of Russian oligarchs and politicians and redirect it to the reconstruction of the destroyed Ukraine. This is being discussed in Europe and the advocates of this plan have many opponents, which is natural because in Europe, unlike Russia, laws and democracy are taken into account. The permanent confiscation of dirty Russian money, and especially its investment in the reconstruction of Ukraine, would be the final triumph of the Magnitsky legislature and its greatest tribute to the murdered Sergei and hundreds of other victims of corrupt thugs around the world. It would be the ultimate tribute to their sacrifices not being in vain.