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Speaker blames US Republicans for Magnitsky bill

Russia’s highest-ranking female politician said Moscow should not exaggerate Washington's so-called Magnitsky bill, even as Russian lawmakers visit the US to discuss the act that seeks to penalize Russian officials over the lawyer’s death.

"It is common in the world of diplomatic practice to 'mirror' unfriendly moves,” Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the Federation Council, told reporters. “But at the same time, I do not think that we should pay so much attention to this issue.”

It is not that important whether (US lawmakers) adopt it or not, she added. It is the Americans' problem.

In the event that Russia decides to respond in tit-for-tat fashion to the possible passage of the bill, any retaliatory measures are a matter for the country's leadership and the Foreign Ministry to consider, she added, before slamming what she sees as political motives behind the US move.

"What right do they, countries abroad, have to compile any lists without any trial or investigation?" the former governor of St. Petersburg asked.

In light of the definition of “presumption of innocence,” the adoption of such a bill is "certainly a political decision, an unfriendly step in relation to our country," Matvienko said.

She went on to suggest that the motivation behind the Magnitsky bill could be related to the US presidential campaign season, which involves incumbent President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The speaker of the Federation Council is convinced it was “representatives of the Republican Party who initiated this unfortunate list."

Matvienko’s heated comments come as a group of Russian senators are in the US, where they presented previously unpublished documents to their US counterparts which they claim prove that late lawyer Sergey Magnitsky was involved in tax fraud.

Vladimir Malkin, a senator who is part of the Russian delegation, said they had presented documents to US senators from the Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Tax Service and the Investigative Committee. The material, he said, proves Magnitsky had not received proper medical treatment in a pre-trial detention facility, though his incarceration was legal in view of the charges.

“It is admitted that he [Magnitsky] was not provided with the proper medical assistance,” Malkin said. “The doctor who was in charge of his treatment had no right to (prescribe treatment) since she was an epidemiologist.”

Malkin then alleged that Hermitage Capital, the British investment fund where Magnitsky worked until his death in 2009, paid only 5 per cent income tax, as opposed to the 35 per cent rate required from foreign companies operating in Russia.

“It means that William Browder [Hermitage Capital’s CEO] has stolen a colossal sum of money from the Russian budget,” Malkin said.

Browder was accused by the Russian authorities of failing to pay more than 2 billion rubles (US$72 million) in back taxes; in 2006, he was banned from entering Russia due to national security concerns.

Meanwhile, Browder has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was banned for criticizing corruption among officials in Russian state companies.

The Russian senators in the US said they were denied a meeting with Ben Cardin, the author of the Sergey Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which will penalize Russian officials linked with the Hermitage Capital’s lawyer's jailing and subsequent death.

Malkin rejected the allegation that Magnitsky had been arrested because he had uncovered a high-profile corruption ring among Russian tax and security officials, calling it “complete nonsense.”

“He was arrested in strict compliance with the law,” he said, adding that all members of Browder’s team, aside from Magnitsky, managed to escape Russia when the tax evasion case first broke.

Magnitsky died after being held for almost a year in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow.

An investigation into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment.

Robert Bridge, RT