This week, a decade-long pursuit of justice finally culminated in a win. The European Court for Human Rights ruled that Russian authorities mistreated whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky while he was in jail, leading to his death in 2009.
Magnitsky had been arrested on tax evasion charges, while he himself was investigating state corruption and a US$230 million tax fraud scheme.
And he was onto something. Investigative journalists have been gradually uncovering where the stolen tax money went. The scheme has also popped up in recent money laundering scandals such as the Troika Laundromat and the activities of Danske Bank’s Estonian branch.
Sergei Magnitsky is Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption whistleblower. In 2010, Transparency International recognised his bravery and commitment to integrity with a posthumous award.
This tragic case also spotlighted corruption and human rights abuses in Russia, prompting targeted sanctions — travel bans and asset freezes — against foreign government officials who commit such crimes. The so-called “Magnitsky acts” of Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, and the United States help victims of corruption and human rights abuses seek accountability abroad.
But 10 years after his death, whistleblowers in Russia still have to fear the consequences of reporting wrongdoing, as national law leaves them completely vulnerable to reprisal.
Earlier this year, the EU showed what robust safeguards for whistleblowers can look like. Strong principles are badly needed in Russia and other countries — including several members of the G20 — to encourage and protect those who do the right thing and speak up against corruption.
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