On Implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
February 1, 2016

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining us for today’s call. This afternoon we will have [Senior State Department Official]. He is going to provide an update on implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. As a reminder, today’s call is on background, and from here on out our speaker will be referred to as a senior State Department official. Again, he is a – this is a background call and he is a senior State Department official. We’ll start with brief remarks from our official and we’ll turn it over to you guys for questions. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everyone. As I think you all know, the State Department has today submitted to Congress its third annual report of U.S. Government actions to implement the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act. Simultaneously today, the Treasury Department has submitted to Congress and put on its website a list of five Russian officials who have been designated – that is, sanctioned – under the Magnitsky Act. Those five officials’ names you know. Four of the five are directly implicated in the persecution and death of Sergei Magnitsky. One is – the fifth is implicated in a non-Sergei Magnitsky related abuse. It is – this person is the head – was the head of a notorious prison in Chechnya and was responsible for cruel human – or degrading treatment of a Chechen human rights activist who was at one time detained at that facility.

Each Magnitsky list submission so far – and this is the fourth list submission – has included those officials directly related to Magnitsky’s death, but a smaller number of officials who are related to – who have been implicated in non-Magnitsky – non-Sergei Magnitsky human rights abuses. So we have maintained the structure of previous lists. This indicates that the Administration intends to carry out and fully implement the Magnitsky Act. This is part of our overall policy. It reflects our support for human rights and our sense that human rights abuses are – those responsible for human rights abuses should be held to account. That’s what the act says; that’s what we intend to do.

I’m happy to answer any of your questions and at your service.

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 at this time. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue and may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. And it’ll be just a moment for our first question.

The first question will come from the line of Andrei Sitov with TASS. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Again, my name is Andrei Sitov. I’m with TASS, the Russian news agency. [Senior State Department Official], thanks for being with us, explaining this to us. You have made it clear in terms of timing, in terms of timing to the report. And still, my basic question is about squaring this with your general – yours, I mean the State Department – general approach to working with Russia, because we all know that the two countries work on a number of important issues, including Syria. And these additional things that you do obviously spoil the atmosphere, so how do you square the two? Which is the right approach?

And then secondly, on the issue itself, please explain to me how the State Department sanctions differ from the Treasury sanctions, because when I ask the Treasury, the list is actually bigger, I think. How many names are there on the list overall at this point? And which of the names are under your coverage – the State Department – and under the Treasury coverage?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Andrei, to answer you the mechanical question, in fact there is no difference between State and Treasury names. Under the Magnitsky Act, the State Department writes the report, but the actual sanctions are administered by the Treasury Department, so there is no difference – that is, there were five names submitted to Congress and Treasury Department put five names on its SDN List, the Specially Designated Nationals List. To answer your other question, there are 39 names now on the Magnitsky list. There’s no difference between State and Treasury.

To answer your first and more profound question, the United States Government is perfectly capable and has every intention of working with Russia on areas of common interest. Where we have them we are doing so and continue to intend – and intend to continue to do so. But at the same time, where we have differences and problems, we are capable of taking appropriate action.

It is a – U.S.-Russia relations are complicated, obviously, but we are capable of and have every intention of working with Russia. For example, we worked with Russia in the Iranian nuclear talks. Those talks were successful, and we were doing that at the same that our sanctions on Ukraine were intensifying. So both of our governments are, in fact, capable of working together in some areas and not in other areas.

OPERATOR: The next question will come from the line of June Torbati with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. It’s Reuters. Just a – just mainly kind of explanatory question. If you could explain to us – you said four of the five are Russian officials. If you could tell us which of those are the Russian officials and which one is not. And I believe – according to what Treasury put on its website, there is one individual who’s a Ukrainian citizen. Is that the one who’s not the Russian official? If you could just clarify that. And if you could give us some indication of the ones that were directly involved in the death of Mr. Magnitsky, what role they actually had – just any details you can provide on that would be helpful. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Certainly. First, to be clear, all five are Russians. All five were Russian officials of one kind or another at the time they committed the acts for which they are being sanctioned, okay. What I – the four and five confusion must be me. Four of the five were directly implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky. The fifth was implicated in the mistreatment – torture, really – of a Chechen human rights activist. This fifth person was Yevgeni Antonov, who was then head of the Chernokozovo prison in Chechnya, a notorious place.

The other four – of the other four – let’s see. Aleksey Anichin was the former head of the Russian interior ministry’s investigative department. He was – he had authorized the criminal case under which Sergei Magnitsky was originally arrested. Pavel Lapshov was the head of the interior ministry’s investigative department of organized criminal activity. He was – his investigative unit concluded that Magnitsky himself was responsible for the conspiracy which Magnitsky uncovered. Two of the others – that is, Urzhumtsev and Kibis – were involved in the posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky. You may remember that Sergei Magnitsky was put on trial again after he was dead, and they were involved in that case among other things – a very, even in this case, bizarre episode. I think there is more information publicly available about all of these officials.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Beatriz Pascual with EFE. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Thank you very much for doing this. I’m going to follow-up in what we were discussing now. I would like to know who is the five official who torture the priest, because we discussed, I think, about the first, second, and third one in the Treasury list, and I would like to know the role of the four and the five one. Thank you very much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The fifth official, Yevgeni Antonov, was head of the Chernokozovo prison in Chechnya. That is a notorious prison. Quite apart from the particular case of the Chechen human rights activist, that prison was known to be a place where people were regularly tortured. That has been well documented by a number of human rights groups and there is abundant information available to the public about that. The victim was a Chechen human rights activist by the name of Zura Bitiyeva, who was arrested some years ago, kept in detention, badly mistreated. She was later released, and shortly after her release she was murdered by a group of unidentified uniformed men. But Yevgeni Antonov has been designated because he was the head of the prison when she was there.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of Karen DeYoung with The Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Some of these people, particularly the ones who were in the Russian interior ministry, their role in this has been known for quite some time and written about a number of times. I’m just curious, as you have to file these reports every year, how do you – it seems like names sort of dribble out even though these are people who have been implicated for a long time. Why now are they on the list and not before?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Magnitsky Act requires a high degree of specific (inaudible) information for each and every designation. Each person designated has to be linked to the act for which they are being designated in a way which will potentially stand up in court. It goes through an exhaustive process of review by lawyers to make sure it (inaudible) a very high bar, which is really the answer to your question. It’s one thing to have people written about in the press. It’s another thing to develop a dossier (inaudible) standard.

Now, the Magnitsky act is written (inaudible) to require a high standard. And it should be, because sanctions really do – they freeze assets, they restrict travel. It’s serious stuff. So the experts at the State Department, particularly the Russia desk (inaudible) human rights bureau, very closely with OFAC’s lawyers and targeters, come up with lists. They vet it hard, they work with the Department of Justice, and there – the lawyers poke at each and every sentence of each and every dossier. Now, that’s part of the background in which we work.

OPERATOR: The next question will come from the line of Michele Kelemen with NPR. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. I just want to pick up on where Karen left it. It just seems to me that a lot of these people are kind of low-level people, not people who are going to be traveling to the U.S., not people who are going to have bank accounts in the U.S. So does this really make a difference, or is this mainly symbolic?

And then also, is there any thought of expanding the list to – now that the British are investigating the Litvinenko murder and have named some names there, of including that in any future sanctions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t know that Aleksey Anichin is necessarily a low-level person. He’s – he was head of the interior ministry’s investigative department.

I don’t – you’ve asked with respect to the Litvinenko findings. You’ve asked a perfectly legitimate question, and all I can say is we will – our process of developing subsequent successive Magnitsky lists is an open one. Without discussing the specifics, we are continuing our work.

QUESTION: And just quickly to follow up, when you say that Anichin is higher level, but has anyone really suffered any consequences from these sanctions? I mean, have bank accounts been frozen of anything?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t know that any – we have not identified any assets that these people hold in the United States. But we hear from a number of human rights organizations that there is a great deal of concern on the part of those designated and on the part of officials who fear they may be designated. I believe one of the reasons – one of the purposes of the Magnitsky Act is to show the operational level of Russian officials that they can and will be held personally accountable for just following orders.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: The next question will come from the line of June Torbati with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So just a couple of quick follow-ups. First, on my original question on the nationality of these individuals, so even despite what the Treasury Department had said on its website, we could say that all five of these individuals are Russians and Russian officials?

And then just to follow up on the previous person’s question, so is it fair to say, then, that of the 39 people who are on the Magnitsky list, none of them have had any assets frozen because none of them have had any assets in the United States? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to say absolutely. It’s very hard to prove a negative, so I don’t want to say that none of them has had assets in the United States frozen. Now, having said that, I cannot identify the assets, but I don’t want to issue a blanket statement and then be proven wrong.

With respect to nationality, all five were designated for acts they performed while – in their official capacity as Russian officials, Russian government officials. It may be that one or more of them was born outside of Russia but in the Soviet Union, and that – the way to square that circle is to just remember that Soviet officials came from – not just from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic but the Ukrainian and other soviet socialist republics when they were all part of the USSR.

MODERATOR: Okay, folks. I think we have time for just one more question.

OPERATOR: Our question comes from the line of Grigory Dubovitsky with the Russian News Agency. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing that call. So I would like to know, should we expect any more entities on this list – I mean Russian officials – and when? After one year, or it doesn’t depend on situation, or it’s kind of scheduled, so on? Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as I said earlier, the Magnitsky Act was intended to be an open-ended process, and we are regularly reviewing the situation to see whether there are additional designations possible. There is no set schedule for new designations. There is a requirement for an annual report in December, so this report is a few weeks late.

It would honestly be our hope that we never have to issue another designation ever. Now, we will continue to look at the Magnitsky case, and there may be new names that appear. But it would be our hope that there will be no cause for this because human rights in Russia will improve to the point that it becomes a dead letter and completely unnecessarily. That would be the best case. But whether or not that best case is realized I cannot say.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thanks, everyone, for joining us, and we really appreciate our senior State Department official taking time to do this call. Everybody have a great afternoon.