A "spectacular attack" has been launched on Irish democracy by Russia over attempts to get a law dropped which would sanction officials responsible for the death of a lawyer who uncovered corruption, a US businessman has warned.
Russia has warned the joint Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs and trade it could stop Irish adoptions of Russian children if it today supports the law, which has been introduced in the US, Canada and Italy, William Browder has said.
Mr Browder visited the committee in February and urged members to adopt the law, which sanctions Russian officials allegedly responsible for the death of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in 2009.
A letter to the committee in March by the Russian embassy in Dublin states a move towards enacting such a law "can have negative influence on the negotiations on the adoption agreement between Russia and Ireland being proceeded".
An original motion by Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh is to go before the committee today supporting a law which would list a number of individuals for asset freezes and visa bans. But an amendment is also to be proposed by Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan which drops references to such sanctions.
"If this goes ahead it would be a spectacular attack on Irish democracy," Mr Browder told The Irish Times . "It would be a sad day for Irish democracy."
Mr Walsh said last night it was vital the committee stood strong on all human rights issues. “If we are going to be silenced by a letter from an ambassador then we would be seriously diminished,” he said.
But Mr Durkan said it was necessary to proceed cautiously and wait for all available information. “One thing we all have to recognise is that we all have to live together,” he said. “I have learned over the years that you need to be cautious and you need to be in command of the facts.”
Pat Breen, Fine Gael TD and chairman of the committee, said the committee would not be influenced by anybody and he hoped for consensus. He said Mr Durkan's amendment had taken out "undiplomatic language" – "The core of what we are concerned about is someone's human rights."
Mr Magnitsky died after developing pancreatitis as a result of being held in appalling conditions in prison in Russia. He was arrested after testifying against state officials following his uncovering of a $230 million fraud of Russian taxes paid to the state by Mr Browder’s firm, the London-based Hermitage Capital Management.
Russia wants to put Mr Magnitsky on trial posthumously and has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Browder. The US adopted the Magnitsky Act in December and listed 18 Russians to be banned from the US for alleged human right abuses.
Russia hit back by banning Russian adoptions by Americans and listing 18 US citizens for visa bans and asset freezes.