Central to fairness, American style, is an opportunity to be heard before judgment is pronounced, innocence until guilty is proven and the proof of guilt by actual evidence and not an alleged propensity to do wrong. This is why the unseemly rush to move the Magnitsky Act through the Congress ultimately is at least as damaging to America as it is to Russia. The proposed Act demands that Russia conducts a "thorough and unbiased investigation of the case" and the Russian prosecutors, albeit slowly, and even the parliament are in the process of doing just that.
The Russian parliamentarian report should be read in its entirety by those wishing to be fair and with an appreciation that it is just preliminary, but among other things, it makes the point that the legal context for the arrest of Sergei Magnitsky may be more complicated than Congress was informed by a British citizen William Browder who, it argues, had a motive to distort the facts to cover up his own activities.
According to this report William Browder implemented a scheme involving the use of Russian corporations he controlled to gain a larger interest in the Russian corporation Gazprom than was allowed by Russian law. The report further alleges that Mr. Browder developed a scheme to evade the payment of profit taxes by claiming a deduction for having a large component of special needs workers in their workforce which resulted in the substantial tax evasion.
It is interesting to note that the UK has refused to aid Russia in its investigation of William Browder's case or even serve him the summons to the court, saying that the requested assistance on their part would undermine the nation's sovereignty, public order and its interests in general. One should wonder what tax fraud investigation in Russia has to do with the British sovereignty?
Somehow, there is a feeling that those who push this bill through Congress do not really care about what happened to Sergei Magnitsky. Only if the primary goal of the bill is Russia bashing and ruining US - Russia relations, does it make sense not to determine the facts before acting. Besides, the Executive branch of the US government can deny visas or freeze the illicit property or bank accounts of any criminal or corrupt foreign national it deems proper without Congressional involvement and according to the existing US laws.
As for presenting Russia's graduation from the obsolete Jackson-Vanik Amendment (JVA) as a carrot, which has to be supplemented by a stick in the form of the Magnitsky Act is just too cynical for words. The great irony is that it is not Russia that now needs the JVA graduation (if it does, then for moral satisfaction only) as JVA has not been active since 1994 anyway. It is the American business that needs this graduation to avoid penalties after Russia formally joins WTO this month.
Congress is about to make a powerful statement to the world about American democracy. Either it will show that truth and fairness are central to what it means to be an American, or it will show that a mindless rush to judgment to score political points is more important than democratic principles.
"Cheap demagoguery and policies based on tabloid emotionalism make for bad - even dangerous foreign policy. The progress of what's known as "the MagnitskyAct" through Congress is a classic example of this" -- Martin Sieff, Foxnews
"When Congress takes the lead on foreign policy the result is not usually optimal. Some worry that America's first branch of government is about to add to its dubious record with passage of the Magnitsky bill" -- Financial Times
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.