Blog / Feb. 10, 2015

Proposed new U.S. bill aims to punish government officials responsible for corruption worldwide

The day after a public inquiry in London opened into the highly suspicious death of Alexander Litvinenko, a fugitive officer of the Russian secret service, U.S. senators took a significant step forward in the global fight against corruption.

New bipartisan bills, introduced on 28 January 2015 by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John McCain (R-AZ) and 30 January 2015 by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), would give the U.S. government the power to impose sanctions in the U.S. on foreign nationals responsible for corruption and other human rights abuses in foreign jurisdictions.  Sanctions would include withholding visas to the U.S. and freezing U.S-based assets.

U.S. bill aims to curb corruption

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and father of two, who died in prison in Russia after blowing the whistle on an alleged 2005 large-scale tax fraud committed by corrupt Russian officials.  He was imprisoned for almost a year and, after being denied medical care, died in an isolation cell in 2009.

A 2012 act, the Magnitsky Act (formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act), was intended to punish the officials responsible for his death.  The latest measures would go further as they apply to all foreign nationals, and for the first time would expressly make ordering acts of significant corruption a punishable offence.

Both acts are the result of a campaign by businessman Bill Browder following the death of Mr Magnitsky, who worked as his lawyer.

The new act should be welcomed – if passed, corrupt officials would find it much more difficult to launder their ill-gotten gains in the United States, and we’ll be pushing hard for the UK government to take similarly bold steps to demonstrate crackdown on corruption and money laundering on these shores.

Chido Dunn and Charlotte Threipland work on the Governments and Corruption Team at Global Witness.