The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions on five individuals and an entity for their involvement in human rights abuses in Russia, including the deaths of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and an opposition politician, as well as the targeting of LGBTI Chechens.
“We are focused on holding accountable those responsible for atrocious acts within Russia,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The Treasury imposed the sanctions pursuant to the Magnitsky Act of 2012, named for a lawyer who died in Russian custody after exposing a $230 million tax refund fraud scheme perpetrated against his employer, hedge fund Hermitage Capital Management. The latest designations come days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a full range of bilateral issues.
Moscow condemned the latest designations in a statement posted to Facebook by its embassy in Washington. The U.S. has used the Magnitsky Act for years as a way to impose unilateral coercive measures that are at odds with international law, the statement said.
“These moves will be followed by reciprocal measures. We have always noted that this is not our choice, while responding in this manner. We strive to cooperate with the United States in the long-term. We are ready for this, and we believe this is the right option,” the Russian embassy said, adding that the sanctions “run counter to a positive outlook of the recent Russia-U.S. talks in Sochi.”
Magnitsky was detained by Russian authorities in 2008 for allegedly carrying out the fraud, though the hedge fund had accused Russian Interior Ministry officials of raiding Hermitage’s offices and using stolen corporate seals to claim the refunds. Hermitage founder Bill Browder has scoured the world searching for the lost funds, and has campaigned for countries to pass laws that authorize sanctions against Russian human rights abusers. Russia has responded to Browder by attempting multiple times to have him arrested.
Thursday’s action brings the total number of individuals and entities sanctioned by the U.S. under the Magnitsky Act to 55, the Treasury said.
The Treasury sanctioned Elena Anatolievna Trikulya, who worked with Russia’s Investigative Committee, ignored evidence and signed the denial of a petition to launch a criminal probe into those responsible for Magnitsky’s detention and death, according to the designation statement.
Also among those sanctioned includes Gennady Vyacheslavovich Karlov, who made false or misleading claims about Magnitsky’s detention and abuse that provided justification for his remanding, the Treasury said. Karlov also oversaw aspects of Magnitsky’s detention, including the denial of his request for a visit from relatives and failing to respond to Magnitsky’s complaints about his deteriorating health, the Treasury added.
The Treasury also sanctioned Ruslan Geremeyev for his suspected role in the killing of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition Russian politician gunned down steps from the Kremlin. Russian investigators twice tried to bring charges against Geremeyev as the possible organizer of Nemtsov’s murder, but the probes were blocked, according to the Treasury. Geremeyev is also a former deputy commander of a battalion considered to be the personal guard of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was sanctioned in 2017 for human rights abuses, Treasury said.
Sergey Leonidovich Kossiev was sanctioned for overseeing and partaking in the beatings and abuse of prisoners as head of a penal colony in the Russian Republic of Karelia, which borders Finland, according to the Treasury, which added that he also attempted to conceal evidence of the abuse, the Treasury said.
And finally, the Treasury sanctioned the Terek Special Rapid Response Team, as well as its commander, Abuzayed Vismuradov. Fighters on the rapid response team detained and tortured people they believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, sometimes after luring them to meetings via social media, according to the Treasury. Vismuradov was the team’s commander and led the operation, the Treasury said.
The Russian embassy in Washington issued a statement which specifically cited the designation of the Terek Special Rapid Response Team, saying the sanctions “reflect the intention either to complicate its international counter-terrorism cooperation or the fear of its ability to operate in the Arctic.”