- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2010

KREMLIN ATTACK

An attack on a Russian opposition leader who testified before Congress last week has refocused attention on a bill to impose a U.S. travel ban on dozens of Russian officials suspected of complicity in the death of a Russian human rights lawyer in a Moscow prison last year.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and head of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, called the assault on Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, an attempt to silence opposition to the government of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Nemtsov appeared in Washington last week at a commission hearing on the anniversary of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who died Nov. 16, 2009, in a Moscow prison. He had been jailed without charge a year earlier after exposing a massive fraud scheme that reached into the upper levels of Russian society.

Mr. Cardin and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act in September to impose a travel ban on 60 Russian officials suspected of complicity in Mr. Magnitsky’s death. The act would ban officials from the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Tax Service, the Federal Prison System, regional courts and the general prosecutor’s office.

“When he died, a lot of his friends believed that he was killed in prison,” Mr. Nemtsov said at the hearing.

He urged Congress to adopt the bill and ban Russian officials suspected in the death of Mr. Magnitsky, who was 37. He suggested adding Kremlin adviser Vladislav Surkov to a blacklist because of his efforts to silence Mr. Putin’s critics. Mr. Surkov recruits young thugs to attack Mr. Putin’s opponents, said Mr. Nemtsov, adding that he believes members of a youth gang called the Nashi assaulted him in a Moscow airport on Friday.

“There is an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance [in Russia],” Mr. Nemtsov said. “If you are for Putin and for his policy, you are OK. You are in a safe position. If you are against [him], you are an enemy.”

Mr. Cardin introduced the Magnitsky bill on Sept. 29 before Congress recessed for the mid-term elections.

Sergei Magnitsky was a young lawyer employed by an American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax-rebate fraud in Russian history perpetrated by high-level Russian officials,” Mr. Cardin said after he filed the bill.

“Since his death, no one has been held accountable, and some of those involved even have been promoted.”

DIPLOMATIC SCANDAL

Some diplomatic scandals, even way outside the Beltway, are too good to ignore, especially when they involve charges of blood diamonds from Zimbabwe and a female ambassador accused of stripping in front of male colleagues.

Jacqueline Zwambila, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia, was recalled this week to explain a news report that she took off her clothes in some sort of protest over disloyalty from other diplomats at the Zimbabwean Embassy in Canberra. The ambassador has strongly denied the report that appeared in the Herald, a newspaper owned by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the political movement led by Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe.

Ms. Zwambila is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, a longtime ZANU-PF opponent and now part of an uneasy coalition government.

The Zimbabwe Mail, however, reported Tuesday that the ambassador was set up by ZANU-PF officials because she was interfering with an illegal diamond-smuggling ring that uses Australia as a hub of operations. Blood diamonds are gems mined in war zones to finance rebel uprisings.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or send e-mail to jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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