The Treasury Department has announced sanctions against 18 Russians over human rights violations, but avoided some prominent officials whose inclusion could have enflamed US-Russian relations.
US lawmakers who backed the sanctions viewed the list as timid, while a prominent Russian lawmaker said Friday that it could have been worse. State Department officials denied that political considerations had been a factor.
The list was mandated by a law passed last year and named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment.
The list included Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, two Russian interior ministry officers who put Magnitsky behind bars after he accused them of stealing $230 million from the state. Two tax officials the lawyer accused of approving the fraudulent tax refunds, and several other Interior Ministry officials accused of persecuting Magnitsky were also on the list. Absent were senior officials from President Vladimir Putin's entourage, whom some human rights advocates had hoped to see sanctioned.
Magnitsky's former client, London-based investor William Browder, who has campaigned to bring those responsible in his death to justice, has claimed that one of those tax officials, Olga Stepanova, has bought luxury real estate in Moscow, Dubai and Montenegro and wired money through her husband's bank accounts worth $39 million.
The act was linked to legislation normalizing trade relations between the United States and Russia, but it drew immediate fire from Russia, which accused Congress of interfering with its internal affairs. Within days, Russia announced that it was banning US adoptions of Russian children.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the development, but Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected chief of foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russian parliament, called the list "bad news." But he said the limited list showed restraint.
"It shows that the Obama administration wants to conserve some partnership with Moscow instead of getting involved in some kind of political warfare," he said.
On the list are two men from Chechnya, Letscha Bogatirov and Kazbek Dukuzov. Bogatirov was accused of killing a critic of Chechnya's Moscow-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov in Vienna in 2009, while Dukuzov was accused of involvement in the 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes magazine's Russian edition. He and two other suspects were acquitted in 2006, and while those acquittals were later overturned, a retrial has yet to take place.
A report by Russia's Interfax news agency noted that most of the police and tax officials who were put on the list had left the government service.
Several officials who congressional sponsors of the legislation had said should be sanctioned were not on the list, including Russia's top police official, Alexander Bastrykin. He has spearheaded a crackdown on the Russian opposition.
Bastrykin's agency also led the investigation into Magnitsky's death and concluded last month that no crime was committed.
Another official not on the list was Chechen leader Kadyrov, who is accused by human rights groups of torture, abductions and killings.
Several of Kadyrov's critics and political rivals have been murdered in recent years in Russia, Austria, Dubai and Turkey. Kadyrov has consistently denied involvement in the killings.
Rep. Jim McGovern, a leading sponsor of the Magnitsky Act, sent the administration more than 250 names to be targeted.
McGovern, in a statement, said the list was an important first step. "While the list is timid and features more significant omissions than names, I was assured by administration officials today that the investigation is ongoing and further additions will be made to the list as new evidence comes to light," he said.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that among the criteria for being put on the list was responsibility for the detention, abuse or death of Magnitsky or involvement in other gross human rights violations in Russia.
The law also allows the administration to compile a separate classified list that would subject officials only to visa bans. The administration can update both lists at any time.
Sen. Ben Cardin, the author of the Magnitsky law, said in a statement Friday that he would work with the administration to "ensure that those who should be on this list are in fact on this list."