WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's administration has released a list of 18 people who will be banned from the United States under a new law penalizing Russia for alleged human rights abuses.
The U.S. law, named after a Russian whistleblower called Sergei Magnitsky who died in prison in 2009, has become an irritant in relations between the former Cold War superpowers. Obama signed it in December.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who worked for the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund, found himself facing accusations of a $230 million (149.9 million pounds) tax fraud from the officials he had accused of responsibility.
Friends and family say Magnitsky was denied medical treatment in jail and died after a beating. Nobody has been found responsible. Instead, Magnitsky has been put on posthumous trial, in the first case of its kind in Russia, his lawyers say.
Sixteen people were put on the U.S. list "because of their association with the persecution and ultimate death of Sergei Magnitsky," a senior State department official said on Friday. The other two people on the list are linked to two other deaths.
They are all subject to U.S. visa bans and asset freezes in the United States.
Those on the list include:
ARTYOM KUZNETSOV, MOSCOW INTERIOR MINISTRY TAX INVESTIGATOR
An officer in the tax crimes unit of the Moscow division of Russia's Interior Ministry, Kuznetsov allegedly took part in the police raids on the offices of Hermitage and its law firm in 2007, according to Magnitsky's supporters.
Hermitage said the documents seized in the raids were later used to re-register ownership of its subsidiaries and claim an illegal $230 million tax refund paid to bogus new owners.
Kuznetsov, 38, also allegedly oversaw the arrest of Magnitsky on unrelated tax evasion charges, after Magnitsky had testified to the Interior Ministry about the suspect $230 million rebate.
Magnitsky's supporters have published information which they said showed Kuznetsov had acquired millions of dollars worth of property soon after the fraud. The Interior Ministry has found no evidence of wrongdoing by Kuznetsov.
PAVEL KARPOV, MOSCOW INTERIOR MINISTRY INVESTIGATOR
Karpov, who held the rank of major, was a senior investigator in the Moscow division of the Interior Ministry at the time of the 2007 police raids on Hermitage and its law firm.
Karpov, 35, was named along with Kuznetsov in testimonies by Magnitsky that described the tax rebate scheme. Magnitsky's supporters say that at the time of the alleged fraud, key documents were in Karpov's possession.
They subsequently published information which they said showed Karpov had bought more than a million dollars worth of property around the time the fraud was committed.
The Interior Ministry has found no evidence of wrongdoing by Karpov. Karpov, who has since resigned from the ministry, has initiated a libel case in London's High Court against Hermitage chief William Browder. Karpov's lawyer, Geraldine Proudler, has said that "there is not a shred of evidence against Karpov," and on Friday, Karpov denied the allegations.
"I am expecting soon the decision from the high court of London which will confirm the falsehood of the accusation" Karpov told Interfax.
OLEG SILCHENKO, FEDERAL INTERIOR MINISTRY INVESTIGATOR
Silchenko, a senior investigator at the federal Interior Ministry, was in charge of the investigation into Magnitsky and ordered his detention.
He also headed the investigation into the alleged $230 million tax rebate fraud reported by Magnitsky. The probe exonerated all Russian officials accused by Magnitsky and his supporters.
Magnitsky's supporters also accuse Silchenko, 35, of inhumane treatment of Magnitsky in custody, denying him medical treatment, family visits and phone calls.
Silchenko has denied mistreating Magnitsky, saying there was sufficient proof of Magnitsky's guilt, and calling the fraud accusations against law enforcement officials "absurd."
OLGA STEPANOVA, TAX OFFICER
Olga Stepanova headed Moscow Tax Office No. 28, which authorized 3.7 billion roubles (101 million pounds) in tax rebates that were part of the $230 million tax refund.
The Russian investigation into the alleged fraud cleared her and other tax officials of wrongdoing, saying that they had been misled into making the refunds.
Magnitsky's supporters have alleged that Stepanova and her ex-husband Vladlen Stepanov acquired millions of dollars of property shortly after the alleged fraud was committed. They published evidence which they said showed Vladlen Stepanov deposited money from the alleged fraud into offshore companies and a Swiss bank account.
Stepanov, a construction company manager, has responded to the allegations by saying that he bought all the property with his own money.
YELENA STASHINA, JUDGE
Yelena Stashina, a judge of the Tverskoi regional court of Moscow, prolonged Magnitsky's detention, according to allegations by U.S. lawmakers and rights activists.
Stashina "refused his (Magnitsky's) complaint about the deprivation of medical treatment at a hearing on November 12, 2009, four days before his death," said a paragraph about her in a summary of allegations against 60 Russian officials sent to the State Department back in 2010 by Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin, who was proposing visa bans on all of them. Cardin was the main Senate sponsor of the Magnitsky Act.
ANDREY PECHEGIN, DEPUTY DIVISION HEAD IN PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
Andrey Pechegin worked in the Russian general prosecutor's office as deputy head of the division of supervision of investigations. He allegedly denied more than 20 complaints from Magnitsky and his lawyers about Magnitsky's treatment, according to information from Cardin's 2010 list of allegations against the 60 officials.
KAZBEK DUKUZOV, AQUITTED IN KLEBNIKOV KILLING
Dukuzov is one of two natives of the Chechnya region who were tried for the 2004 killing in Moscow of American journalist Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, and were acquitted by a jury in 2006.
A retrial in 2007 was suspended because Dukuzov could not be tracked down. Nobody has been brought to justice over Klebnikov's killing.
LECHA BOGATYROV, IMPLICATED IN KILLING IN VIENNA
Lecha Bogatyrov was implicated by Austrian police as the killer of Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Israilov became a critic of Kadyrov and was shot dead in Vienna in 2009. Bogatyrov reportedly escaped arrest and returned to Russia.
(Reporting by Jason Bush, Thomas Grove, Alexei Anishchuk and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Steve Gutterman and David Brunnstrom)