MOSCOW (Reuters) - The British government has assured Moscow it has not imposed a blanket ban on entry to Britain for Russian officials with alleged ties to lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s death in jail, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
But Britain, which has made clear that such ties would be a factor in decisions on individual visa applications, said it was seriously concerned about Magnitsky’s death and urged Russia to bring those responsible to justice.
Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that Home Secretary Theresa May had sent a list of 60 Russians, including judges, prosecutors and investigators, to the British embassy in Moscow and they could be banned from entering Britain.
Magnitsky, 37, a lawyer for an equity fund, died in detention in 2009 a year after he was held on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Former colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the Russian state through fraudulent tax refunds. The Kremlin’s rights council has said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.
Tuesday’s statement from Russia suggested Britain had not blacklisted Russians over Magnitsky’s death but would consider any links with the case when weighing individual visa applications.
Russia said on Monday it would retaliate if Britain confirmed it had put such a blacklist in place.
In response, Russia’s ambassador to London was told “no visa restrictions have been introduced by the British side in this regard and no political decisions have been taken,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
“At the same time it was noted that the British border agency does not predetermine its decisions on visa requests but takes all circumstances into account in making these decisions,” he said.
That echoed British Immigration Minister Damian Green’s statement in July that a list had “been sent to the Visa Section in Moscow and will be considered if an entry clearance application is received from any of the named individuals”.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it denies entry to applicants whom “independent, reliable and credible evidence” indicates have committed human rights abuses.
It added: “The Magnitsky case is of serious concern to the government. It is deeply worrying that Mr. Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention three years ago, under troubling circumstances, and that no one has yet been held to account.
“We call on Russia to ensure that all those responsible are brought to justice without further delay.”
British embassy officials in Moscow were not immediately available for comment.
Lawmakers in Britain and the United States are seeking to ensure Russian officials they believe share responsibility for his death are denied entry.
A U.S. Senate panel in June approved a bill, criticized by Moscow, that would require the United States to deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians linked to Magnitsky’s death as well as human rights abusers worldwide.
A diplomatic dispute over the Magnitsky case would further strain relations between Britain and Russia. They have been at odds over security, diplomatic and human rights issues for years, particularly since Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko was killed with radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow and Alessandra Prentice in London,; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Janet Lawrence