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magnitsky law

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 4. Canada is taking aim at corruption and rights abuses in Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan by imposing targeted sanctions on 52 individuals, including Mr. Maduro.Yuri Kadobnov/The Canadian Press

Canada issued its first round of Magnitsky-style sanctions Friday, targeting 52 human-rights violators in Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the sanctions in a statement, just more than two weeks after Canada passed a law giving it the power to impose asset freezes and travel bans on human-rights abusers around the world. The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who was beaten to death by Moscow prison staff in 2009 after accusing Russian officials of theft.

"Canada is determined to protect human rights and combat corruption worldwide. Today's announcement sends a clear message that Canada will take action against individuals who have profited from acts of significant corruption or who have been involved in gross violations of human rights," Ms. Freeland said.

Read also: For son and wife of Magnitsky, Canadian law is a step toward justice for all

Last month, Canada became the fourth country to pass a Magnitsky law. The original Magnitsky Act was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2012, in response to the death of Mr. Magnitsky. Britain and Estonia have also passed legislation.

U.S.-born financier and anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder has led the international effort to sanction human-rights abusers worldwide, in memory of Mr. Magnitsky. Mr. Browder hired Mr. Magnitsky as the lawyer for his Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management hedge fund in 2005. Mr. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009. Investigations by Russia's human-rights council eventually concluded he was beaten to death by prison staff.

Although the law is named after Mr. Magnitsky, the Canadian government insists that the sanctions will be used against individuals beyond Russia. Mr. Browder applauded Ottawa's swift effort to globally implement the Magnitsky law within weeks of passing it.

"The fact that the government came out so quickly with this shows how serious they are. This is a demonstration of moral leadership in a world that's sorely needing world leadership right now," Mr. Browder said.

Thirty Russians were sanctioned on Friday for their involvement in the corruption surrounding the $230-million (U.S.) tax fraud uncovered by Mr. Magnitsky and the "subsequent gross violations of his legal and human rights" during his investigation and detention, including the abuse that led to his death in jail.

Mr. Browder said the most significant names on the sanctions list include Dmitry Klyuev, the alleged mastermind behind the criminal conspiracy that Mr. Magnitsky uncovered, and Fikret Tagiyev, the head of Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina detention centre, where Mr. Magnitsky died.

Russia has vowed retaliation for Canada's passage of the law. Mr. Browder says he was the first target last month, when Russia put him on Interpol's most-wanted list for the fifth time. Interpol later rejected the arrest notice.

Speaking at a conference in Sochi in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Canada of playing "unconstructive political games" in passing the Magnitsky law and accused Mr. Browder of "crime, deception and theft" while he lived in Russia. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has also warned that Russia will sanction more Canadian officials if Ottawa targets any Russians with Magnitsky sanctions.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

President Nicolas Maduro was among the 19 Venezuelans targeted by Canada Friday. Global Affairs' statement on the Venezuelan sanctions reiterated Canada's concern about the political and economic crisis in that country. The Magnitsky sanctions come less than two months after Canada targeted 40 Venezuelan government officials and individuals under a different sanctions regime.

In a statement Friday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the sanctions were "illegal" and accused the Canadian government of "absolute and shameful subordination" to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Canada also sanctioned three individuals from South Sudan, the world's youngest country. The country spiralled into civil war in 2013, two years after it gained independence from Sudan. South Sudan does not have an embassy in Ottawa; its embassy in Washington did not immediately respond.

Trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak, who advises businesses on how to navigate Canada's sanctions regime, said companies that do business globally will have to check their current and future customers against the new Magnitsky sanctions list. She said banks, investment advisers, and condominium corporations and management companies will have to do the same.