Thursday, 16 December 2021
Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]
I am very happy with that and I appreciate the Ceann Comhairle making that suggestion. I am delighted to speak for the Labour Party and to support my colleague, Deputy Howlin’s brilliant initiative in bringing forward this Magnitsky Bill to tackle human rights abuses and to ensure that, as the Deputy said, those guilty of perpetrating human rights abuses will not have a safe haven in Ireland for their ill-gotten funds. We must also ensure that we have the necessary criminal justice infrastructure in place to deal with this and to allow for the seizure of assets of human rights violators. I am proud to be here to support this Bill and to speak in favour of it. It is an issue that is close to my heart.
This legislation deals with money laundering as a worldwide crime and with the aftermath of issues in kleptocracies where regimes have robbed their people of their assets, raw materials and resources. The immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union was a case in point and the case that prompted the initial momentum around Magnitsky legislation. As Deputy Howlin said, since 2012 we have seen laws known as Magnitsky laws passed in a number of jurisdictions that provide for financial sanctions against the officials of other states who have committed human rights abuses or who have been involved in significant corruption. These laws are named after Sergei Magnitsky. He was an accountant who died in a Moscow prison after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. While in prison, Magnitsky was refused medical treatment and after almost a year he was allegedly beaten to death while in custody. His friends publicised the case and lobbied American officials to pass legislation sanctioning Russian officials involved and engaged in corruption. Magnitsky’s tragic death is what prompted the passage of legislation and the international movement.
Many colleagues in this House and in the Seanad will be well aware of the Magnitsky case, particularly because it has been publicised so remarkably well across the world by Bill Browder, the American-born businessman who has published on the issue and whose book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and how I became Putin’s no. 1 enemyis a compelling read. I read it some years ago and was overwhelmed by the true story it told of the appalling abuses of human rights, the human story of Sergei Magnitsky, his important work in exposing corruption and his tragic death. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Browder in 2019, as Deputy Howlin and others did, when he came to Leinster House to make the case for Ireland to bring forward legislation in line with the Magnitsky Acts that had been passed in other jurisdictions. This was in order to ensure that the sort of criminal actions that led to the death of Sergei Magnitsky would not go unpunished and that those engaged in those appalling human rights abuses would not have impunity.
Since 2021 a number of jurisdictions have passed legislation on this, including the US in 2012, Britain, Canada, Lithuania and Latvia. The case for such legislation was strengthened in the last year, particularly in light of protests over the treatment of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition politician. The Minister of State will recall that in the other House, when I was a Member of the Seanad, in our debate on the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Act 2021 on 1 February I spoke with him about the prospect of bringing in Magnitsky legislation and I raised the case of Alexei Navalny. The Minister of State told me then that the Department was seriously considering Deputy Howlin’s proposal and the Labour Party Bill and would facilitate it. I am grateful to the Minister of State, as I know Deputy Howlin is, for his constructive engagement on the matter and for the fact that the Government is supporting the Bill to go through Second Stage. That is constructive and it is appropriate that the House would not divide on this. There is clearly a consensus across the House on the need for this type of legislation.
Deputy Howlin pointed out that we are increasingly seeing across the world that those who are taking up the mantle of the defence of human rights are coming under attack for their work. I have been proud to work with Front Line Defenders for many years. It is an NGO that works globally to recognise the work, bravery and courage of so many human rights defenders in different regimes. We will all have serious concerns about the abuses we are seeing and about the need to pass legislation here to strengthen the framework in Ireland that enables us to deal with this abuse. I am conscious that just as we talked about this in February when Alexei Navalny’s case was in the news, so too we are talking about this Bill today as we see a build-up of the Russian military on the border with Ukraine. We see growing concerns about the potential for human rights abuses there and for serious conflict with Ukraine. I know that is a matter that is being dealt with at a high level in the EU this week. It is in that context that we are bringing forward this legislation.
Deputy Howlin has set out the nature of the Bill and clearly there are powers under the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996-2016, as he said, to seize and dispose of assets. These powers may be available against corrupt foreign officials who have assets within this jurisdiction but the difficulty is that dual criminality test that would need to be satisfied. The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is to make the existing legislation more easily available and capable of dealing with such cases so that certain conduct occurring outside of our State will be described as criminal conduct for the purposes of our proceeds of crime legislation, notwithstanding that it does not constitute an offence under the law of the foreign state concerned.
We see this as in keeping with other progressive legislation being passed in other countries around the world and we are also conscious of the initiative of the European Parliament to encourage all EU states to take up the same cause and to pass legislation mirroring this sort of Magnitsky law. This will ensure that foreign governments or officials involved in corrupt practices or gross violations of human rights, if they have assets in this State or in other EU states, will have to face the rigours of the law in those states. It is a huge issue when we look at the amassing of assets that corrupt officials have done in other countries, particularly in EU member states but also in countries like Switzerland. We need to ensure, therefore, that Ireland does not become that sort of safe haven and that we have the necessary tools and infrastructure in place in our criminal justice system to deal with this issue.
I commend Deputy Howlin on bringing the Bill forward. I thank the Minister of State on behalf of the Labour Party for his constructive engagement on this and I look forward to the swift passage of this Bill in the memory of Sergei Magnitsky. I recognise the immense work done on this by Bill Browder and so many others.