November 3, 2017, The Canadian government used a powerful new legal weapon — The Magnitsky Act — for the first time Friday, slapping sanctions on 52 officials from three countries: Venezuela, South Sudan and Russia.
The new law is named after Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after he was arrested for an alleged tax fraud.
The U.K.-based businessman he represented, American-born Bill Browder, says Magnitsky was murdered by officials who wanted to cover up the fact that they had stolen $230 million in taxes paid by his company, Hermitage Capital, then the biggest foreign investor in Russia.
Browder has since devoted himself to persuading western countries to pass a version of a U.S. law named for his former accountant. The law was originally aimed at the corrupt Russian officials who were most closely involved in the Magnitsky case, but it also allows for the application of sanctions against corrupt officials of any government.
While Canada has always had discretionary powers to sanction any government it sees fit, the Magnitsky Act goes further, giving the government powers to freeze assets owned by individuals, if the government believes them to be involved in corruption, money laundering and rights abuses in their own countries.
The world’s newest nation, South Sudan, is the first one named by Canada under the Magnitsky Act.
Three South Sudanese figures, blamed by the international community for their part in the violence that has wracked the country since it achieved independence in 2011, are in the Liberal government’s crosshairs. They are former chief of staff of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army Paul Malong Awan, deputy defence chief Malek Reuben Riak Rengu, and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Michael Makuei Lueth.
Lueth is accused for using the country’s airwaves to foment ethnic violence, as well as planning an attack on UN peacekeepers.
All three men were already targeted for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in September.