Russian officials defiant on inclusion in US blacklist

Russian officials blacklisted by the United States over the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky expressed defiance on Saturday as ministers assured them of the Russian government's support.

The United States this month released a list of 16 Russians allegedly linked to the 2009 death of Magnitsky. They were barred from travelling to the United States or holding assets there in a move that enraged Russia and prompted tit-for-tat measures and a US adoption ban.

Interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev and justice minister Alexander Konovalov held a televised joint meeting with blacklisted officials who spoke out publicly for the first time.

"This will not have any direct effect on me, since I don't have an international travel passport or any property in the United States or anywhere outside our Motherland," interior ministry investigator Oleg Silchenko told journalists, cited by the RIA Novosti news agency.

"Are your knees trembling?" Kolokoltsev asked Silchenko.

"I don't feel my knees trembling because there is only ever one truth," Silchenko replied.

Magnitsky, a lawyer acting for Western hedge fund Hermitage Capital died at 37 after being held in pre-trial detention in a squalid Moscow jail on fraud charges.

The official cause of death was heart failure along with a number of health conditions but rights activists who have investigated his death believe he was tortured after blowing the whistle on fraud by officials.

Russia has not convicted anyone over his death and has closed the investigation. Highly unusually, it has chosen to try him for fraud posthumously.

Former deputy head of the interior ministry's investigative department Natalya Vinogradova told journalists she had never even been abroad.

"I consider the Magnitsky list a complete sham," she said.

Prison service officials Ivan Prokopenko and Dmitry Komnov, also attended the meeting.

"I consider myself a patriot of my motherland. And therefore I don't consider the decision of the American authorities to include me in the Magnitsky list inconvenient for me or my family," Komnov was cited as saying by RIA Novosti.

"I've never planned to visit this country. Neither I, nor my family," stressed Komnov, who was removed as governor of one of the prisons where Magnitsky was held after his death.

"Keep working calmly," Konovalov told the officials at the meeting.

"No one plans any measures or reprimands to you over a foreign government declaring you guilty."