Irish Government’s refusal to support Bill shows it is ‘not willing to take on dictators’, anti-corruption campaigner says
Magnitsky ally Bill Browder condemns effective veto of Bill that would allow State seize assets of human rights violators
Fri Jul 22 2022 – 00:01
The Government’s effective veto of a Bill aimed at targeting human-rights abusers sends a message it is “not willing to take on dictators and bullies,” an anti-corruption campaigner said.
US-born financier Bill Browder has condemned the Government for refusing to support what he said would be an Irish Magnitsky Act that would impose sweeping punitive financial actions on Russian oligarchs and state officials involved in human-rights abuses and corruption.
The Bill is named after Mr Browder’s former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed corruption by Russian state officials and who was subsequently arrested and tortured in a Russian prison in 2009. Mr Browder’s campaign has led to the passage of Magnitsky laws in more than 30 countries.
The businessman, who once ran Russia’s largest foreign investment fund, criticised the Government’s decision to use a procedural device know as a “money message” veto to block the Bill tabled by Labour TD Brendan Howlin. If passed, it would have allowed the State seize the assets of non-resident human-rights violators.
Mr Browder said that it was “pretty surprising” that the Government had taken the decision to effectively veto the Bill, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It sends a message out that the Irish Government is not willing to take on dictators and bullies. Ireland is probably not the most important place in Putin’s global agenda but I am sure he had a little smile when he saw this news,” he told The Irish Times.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told Mr Howlin last month that she had been advised that the Criminal Assets Bureau did not believe the Bill would provide any practical benefit in their work as the relevant criminal conduct was covered by existing 1996 Proceeds of Crime Act.
Mr Howlin said he had wanted to broaden the scope of the criminal breaches under the law to include gross human-rights abuses that would allow CAB to seize and dispose of violators’ assets.
He said he believed the Department of Justice did not want an overarching law dealing with human-rights abuses, preferring to rely on European Union sanctions, which did not allow assets to be seized.
“That’s probably too far a stretch for the department, who might think that there are human-rights abuses going on in places we might not want to fall out with,” said Mr Howlin.
A spokesman for the department said CAB had advised the Minister that it did not believe there was a “legislative gap to be filled” as the relevant conduct was covered by the 1996 Act.
“The assets in question are generally not proceeds of human-rights abuse, but rather are proceeds of other criminal conduct such as corruption, embezzlement or fraud. Therefore, the proposed Bill would not provide any practical benefit for CAB in their work,” he said.
Mr Browder said the Government veto meant Mr Magnitsky’s killers could “come freely to Ireland, set up businesses, travel and enjoy everything Ireland has to offer without any fear of consequences”.
Mr Browder and Mr Howlin said they would consult each other and their legal advisers on the next course of action, with the Labour TD suggesting a possible narrower type of Bill.
The department spokesman said the targeting of assets was “a vitally important aspect of our criminal justice system, and both Ms McEntee and the department share the desire to see this happening where human-rights abuses are committed abroad”.
He said the Minister looked forward to “engaging constructively to facilitate practical and workable improvements to the current regime”.