Why Is Estonia Falling Behind on Magnitsky Implementation?

Last week, Lithuania added 49 names to its Magnitsky list and the Latvian parliament is currently considering a resolution to adopt its own Magnitsky List. Despite being the first nation to adopt global Magnitsky human rights legislation, Estonia has been slow to add any names to its list. Marcus Kolga looks at possible reasons for the delay.

In December 2016, Estonia took a surprising and welcome global lead on human rights legislation when Riigikogu adopted global Magnitsky human rights legislation. The Estonian vote came just hours before the US Sentate ratified its own legislation, making Estonia the first nation in the world to adopt the innovative law which targets global human rights abuser with visa entry bans and asset freezes.

The legislation is named in honour of Russian whistle-blower, Sergei Magnitsky, who in 2008, discovered a massive, USD $230 million tax fraud committed by Kremlin authorities. When Magnitsky reported the theft, he was detained by the same officials he reported it to and was incarcerated without a trial for nearly a year. In November 2009, Magnitksy died in Moscow’s notorious Butyrka Prison, after being beaten by guards.

After the legislation passed in Parliament, Estonian MP, Eerik-Niiles Kross, who led the Estonian initiative to adopt Magnitsky legislation, told European media that Estonia “finally has the ability to ban entry into Estonia for those types of people who beat Magnitsky to death in jail.”

Yet thirteen months after the legislation passed, the Estonian government has yet to fully implement this new global human rights tool and has so far, rejected the addition of any names to the the list of sanctioned individuals.

The long delay in implementation is made curious by the fact that a portion of the stolen Russian funds that Magnitsky discovered, were allegedly laundered through an Estonian based bank.

In Latvia, Mr. Kalniņš’s committee is currently racing to finalize a resolution that will recommend a list of individuals to the government that will proclaim them inadmissible to Latvia

In October of last year, a French judge opened an investigation into USD $17.8 million that had been transferred to France from Danske Bank’s Estonian branch between 2008 and 2011. A report published a month later by the Organized Crime and and Corruption Reporting Project, revealed that internal auditors for Danske Bank stated that the bank’s Estonian branch”had acted in clear breach of money-laundering regulations” in connection to a USD $2.9 billion Azerbaijani money laundering scheme.

Estonian government financial investigators probed and reported on the Danske Bank money laundering allegations to the Estonian government in 2015, but have so far, not made their findings public.

Based on the OCCRP report, the Magnitsky related funds that are alleged to have been laundered by Danske Bank’s Estonian branch are part of a bigger problem.

Estonian anti-corruption activist and lawyer, Jaanus Tehver, says that “the USD $17 million that the French are investigating is only the tip of a much larger iceberg”. He is “worried that the Estonian government isn’t taking this case or the problem with the laundering of Russian, Azerbaijani or other money seriously.”

Despite its otherwise strong anti-corruption bona fides (Estonia ranks among the top 25 least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International), Estonian authorities have been oddly reluctant to publicly address the Danske Bank issue. And that hesitation is starting to raise eyebrows among some activists.

“Estonia has a great reputation for transparency and the government’s decision to adopt global Magnitsky legislation has demonstrated solid international leadership”, says human rights and anti-corruption activist, Bill Browder. “Estonia should recognize this and continue with its implementation by adding names to their Magnitsky sanctions list.”

Lithuania, which adopted Magnitsky legislation in November, has charged forward, placing 49 Russian human rights violators on its own Magnitsky list.

Among the names on the Lithuanian list is Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who is responsible for abuses that include kidnappings, disappearances, torture, and killings of political opponents and a well publicized pogrom against Chechnya’s LGBT community. Andrei Lugavoi, the Russian parliamentarian, who the UK has charged with the of poisoning Russian whistle-blower, Alexander Litvenenko, is included on the list, as is the notorious Russian Investigative Committee chief, Aleksandr Bastrykin.

In Latvia, parliamentarians are also focusing on the development of a Magnitsky sanctions list using existing legislation. Chairman of the Latvian Foreign Affairs Committee, Ojārs Kalniņš, was in Ottawa in October, where he discussed implementation of the legislation with Canadian Sentator Raynell Andreychuk, who successfully introduced the Canadian version of Magnitsky legislation last year. In Latvia, Mr. Kalnin’s committee is currently racing to finalize a resolution that will recommend a list of individuals to the government that will proclaim them inadmissible to Latvia. One senior Latvian lawmaker says that the list could be adopted by the end of March.

“Estonia made positive headlines around the world when we adopted global Magnitsky human rights legislation,” remarked, Estonian MP Eerik-Niiles Kross. “But the government’s hesitation to add any names to the list is having the opposite effect, as our allies start to ask ‘what’s going on?’.”

Estonian version here

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