Russia warns U.S. against sanctions over lawyer death

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow on Friday warned U.S. legislators against passing a law that would punish Russians allegedly linked to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer, saying it would undermine cooperation.

A bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday would bar 60 Russians from the United States and its financial markets, sanctions that would be lifted only after those responsible for the jail death of Sergei Magnitsky were brought to justice.

Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer for what was once Russia’s top equity fund, Hermitage, died in November 2009 after nearly a year in Moscow jails.

Colleagues and human rights activists say he was denied adequate medical treatment and subjected to conditions amounting to torture in a plot led by the same law enforcement officials he had accused of committing a multi-million dollar tax fraud.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the legislation “dissonates with the current level of interaction between our countries, evoking associations with the Cold War era.”

In a statement, the ministry said the bill was a bid to turned the tragedy of Magnitsky’s death into a “political show.”

“Such games by American legislators will certainly not aid the search for the truth, and will introduce a serious irritant into our relations,” it said.

It warned the legislation would undermine cooperation between U.S. and Russian law enforcement “in such important areas as the fights against international organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking and other modern-day threats.”

Former colleagues of Magnitsky have called his death a test of President Dmitry Medvedev’s commitment to his stated goals of curbing corruption and reforming the Russian justice system, from police and prosecutors to prison and courts.

Medvedev sacked several prison officials after Magnitsky’s death and urged the authorities to examine the circumstances, but nobody has faced charges and few of the 60 Russians named in the legislation have faced any consequences.

U.S. Senator Jamed Cardin, a co-sponsor of the bill who also chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency that monitors human rights, said on Wednesday that “the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia.”

In April, Cardin urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bar the 60 Russians from the United States. The bill faces a steep climb to get passed before Congress completes its work for the year.

President Barack Obama has launched a “reset” of long-strained Russia ties, and his critics say noticeable improvements have come at the expense of pressure on the Kremlin over human rights and freedoms. The White House denies that.

Editing by Philippa Fletcher