THE senior director of a US-based think tank has accused Cyprus of enabling human rights abuses by cooperating with Russian authorities allegedly tying to cover up a major fraud case relating to the murder of auditor Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.
David Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington DC, also called on the West to take more concrete steps to make it clear that countries could not enable human rights abusers without repercussions.
In an op-ed in Politico, Kramer said Cyprus cooperated with Russian authorities on raids in Nicosia last year, during which Cypriot police officers along with two senior Russian interior ministry officials searched the offices of a leading law firm which counts the Hermitage Fund among its clients.
The action was carried out after a mutual legal assistance quest from Russia. Police interrogated the law firm’s employees and left a request for corporate documents.
At the time, the Hermitage Fund released a statement claiming the raid was part of new posthumous criminal proceedings by Russia’s interior ministry against Sergei Magnitsky and in absentia against William Browder, co-founder of the Hermitage Fund and leader of the ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky’ campaign.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant, died in jail in 2009 after he exposed huge tax embezzlement by a criminal gang – the ‘Klyuev group’ – involving high ranking officials in the Russian interior ministry and its internal intelligence service, the FSB.
Under the new proceedings, Russian investigators are accusing Magnitsky and Browder of organising the $230m fraud that the two claim to have uncovered and reported.
The US has passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as a mechanism to punish the Russian officials responsible for his murder.
The Act denies visas and freezes the assets of abusers of human rights in Russia, and aims to hit them where it hurts — their wallets.
“Unfortunately, no other democracy has adopted similar measures, and Russia has even found enablers of its human rights abuses and corruption — especially in Cyprus,” Kramer said.
Investigators for Hermitage have uncovered more than $100m of illicit funds connected to the Magnitsky case so far, with more than $30m traced to accounts in Cyprus, he said.
“Cypriot authorities finally opened an investigation in 2012 after considerable public pressure but have dragged their feet ever since.”
“Working with Russia on a case that has been universally and unequivocally condemned reflects poorly on Cyprus. The United States should not be a helpless bystander.”