By Ria Novosti
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would respond to travel restrictions imposed by the United States on a number of officials allegedly responsible for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s death in detention.
The ministry said the U.S. decision to impose visa bans and freeze American assets of Russian officials involved in the lawyer’s death without notifying Russia would “become a strong irritant in Russian-U.S. relations and damage efforts to build up trust and constructive cooperation.”
“The American side is well aware of efforts by the Russian authorities to investigate the Magnitsky tragedy fully and thoroughly. In this regard, the political games in which the U.S. executive power is becoming entangled are causing perplexity and concern,” the ministry said.
“Naturally, the Russian side will not leave such unfriendly measures unanswered and will take adequate measures to protect the sovereignty of our state and the rights of Russian citizens from illegal actions by foreign states,” the statement reads.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended the move, saying the U.S. had investigated the Magnitsky case independently and that the blacklist consisted of “individuals that we believe are responsible for [Magnitsky’s] death.”
The Washington Post said earlier in the day that about 60 officials were on the blacklist, which has not yet been disclosed.
Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital investment fund, died in November 2009 after almost a year in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina pretrial detention center. He was detained on tax evasion charges shortly after announcing he had uncovered massive fraud by police investigators.
In July, a Kremlin rights council said his death was likely to have been the result of a beating and that the charges against him were fraudulent. Human rights activists and his former colleagues allege the officers he had accused were involved in his death, which was originally said to have been the result of “heart failure.”
Last year, the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee voted unanimously to ban entry to the EU for 60 officials allegedly tied to Magnitsky’s death.