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Australia urged to introduce version of Magnitsky Act against Russian corruption by British MP

Labour MP Ian Austin is calling for Australia to be tougher on Russian criminals.
Labour MP Ian Austin is calling for Australia to be tougher on Russian criminals. Source: Tim Stevens.

This material belongs to: ABC News.

A British Labour MP has joined calls for the Australian Parliament to punish Russian human rights violators and criminals.

Ian Austin, who was involved in co-sponsoring a bill that freezes the assets of those suspected of investing ill-gotten gains in the UK, has urged Australian MPs to bring in their own version of a Magnitsky Act.

Six countries, including the US, the UK and Canada have versions of the laws, which are named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who died in custody in 2009 after exposing a massive fraud involving corrupt Moscow officials.

Mr Austin has told the ABC it is time Australia joined other countries in cracking down on Russian corruption.

“I would say to politicians in Australia, look at what’s happening in Russia, look at how Russian people are being stolen from and in some cases murdered, and ask yourselves, whose side are you on?” Mr Austin said.

“Are you on the side of the Russian people? Or are you on the side of Vladimir Putin and the corrupt oligarchs around him.”

British-American hedge fund manager Bill Browder has launched a campaign for Australia to introduce its own version of the Magnitsky Act.

“I would like to find a multi-party group of advocates to join me in Australia, in the way I have done it in the US, UK and Canada, to put a Magnitsky Act to the Australian Parliament,” Mr Browder told 7.30.

The businessman was once Russia’s largest foreign investor. He hired Mr Magnitsky to investigate the theft of some of his companies when he was expelled from the country after exposing corruption.

“He [Mr Magnitsky] discovered that in addition to stealing our investment holding companies, the perpetrators used the stolen companies to steal $US230 million of taxes we paid to the Russian Government,” Mr Browder said.

Soon after Mr Magnitsky was arrested and held in pre-trial detention for close to a year.

He died in custody after he was denied medical attention for severe pancreatitis and had been beaten up by prison guards.

Sergei Magnitsky in a park
Sergei Magnitsky in a park. Source: ABC News.

The first version of the law was introduced in the US in 2012 after Mr Browder lobbied Republican senator John McCain and Democrat senator Ben Cardin to co-sponsor a bill.

The US Magnitsky Act has frozen assets and introduced visa bans on those who have been placed on a list of human rights abusers and criminals. The laws work on the principle that Russian fraudsters make their money at home and then try and spend and invest it overseas.

In 2017, the UK passed an amendment to the Criminal Finances Act, which allowed the Government to take action against those involved in human rights abuses.

Mr Austin is part of a cross-party group of MPs who are pushing the UK Parliament to pass even tougher sanctions to prevent dirty money being invested in Britain.

He rejects claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Magnitsky Acts are simply “anti-Russian hysteria”.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I was talking to Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is vice-chair of Open Russia, he said to me: ‘These are the most pro-Russian laws that could be passed because these are laws that will prevent people in Russia being stolen from and being murdered and brutalised by a corrupt dictatorship’,” Mr Austin said.

“I’m proud to say these are measures targeting the corrupt leadership. They are measures I believe that are on the side of the Russian people.

“I think it would be fantastic if Australian lawmakers were looking at this issue and saying to the Russians, Australia is not open for corrupt and stolen Russian money.”