A pro-Putin California congressman has been accused of violating US sanctions on Russia

A new complaint filed with the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control alleges that California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and his staff director, Paul Behrends, violated the Magnitsky Act when they tried to get Russia's deputy general prosecutor, Victor Grin, removed from the US sanctions list last year.

The complaint was filed by US financier Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management, who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his account, Sergey Magnitsky.

Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme in 2008 when he was working for Hermitage that implicated high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin. He was later thrown in jail by the same Interior Ministry officers he testified against during criminal proceedings to punish those involved in the tax scheme, Browder said in 2015, and died in custody after being held for 358 days.

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian opposition activist Mark Galperin (C) speeches during an opposition rally in Central Moscow, Russia, April, 29, 2017. Hundreds activists were gathered by the Open Russia opposition movement near the Presidential Administration to bring their letters calling Vladimir Putin not to run the 2018 Presidential Elections. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Opposition activist Maria Baronova (L) , and pro-Kremlin political activist Maria Katasonova (R) meet before an unsanctioned protest in downtown in Moscow, Russia on April 29, 2017. Several hundred demonstrators are gathered in central Moscow, trying to move to the nearby presidential administration building to present letters calling on Vladimir Putin not to run for a fourth term in office in 2018. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: An opposition supporter wearing tape on his mouth waits in queue outside the president's administrative office to hand in his petition against Vladimir Putin's expected candidacy in elections set for 2018, during a protest rally in Moscow, Russia on April 29, 2017. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Opposition activist Maria Baronova (L) and pro-Kremlin political activist Maria Katasonova (R) meet before an unsanctioned protest in downtown in Moscow, Russia on April 29, 2017. Several hundred demonstrators are gathered in central Moscow, trying to move to the nearby presidential administration building to present letters calling on Vladimir Putin not to run for a fourth term in office in 2018. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KAZAN, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Police take protesters into custody during a rally that urging Vladimir Putin not to run for a fourth term for Presidential elections in Kazan, Russia on April 29, 2017. (Photo by Alexey Nasyrov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAINT-PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Police take protesters into custody during a rally that urging Vladimir Putin not to run for a fourth term for Presidential elections at Gorkovskaya subway station in Saint-Petersburg, Russia on April 29, 2017. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian riot policemen awaits for the beginning of an opposition rally in Central Moscow, Russia, April, 29, 2017. Hundreds activists were gathered by the Open Russia opposition movement near the Presidential Administration to bring their letters calling Vladimir Putin not to run the 2018 Presidential Elections. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
SAINT-PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Protesters are seen during a rally that urging Vladimir Putin not to run for a fourth term for Presidential elections at Gorkovskaya subway station in Saint-Petersburg, Russia on April 29, 2017. (Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Opposition supporters wait in queue outside the president's administrative office to deliver letters calling for Vladimir Putin not to stand for a fourth term in 2018, during a protest rally in Moscow, April 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Natalia KOLESNIKOVA (Photo credit should read NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers detain an activist during a protest rally calling for Vladimir Putin not to stand for a fourth term in 2018, in Saint Petersburg on April 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Olga MALTSEVA (Photo credit should read OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/Getty Images)
Interior Ministry officers detain a participant of an opposition protest, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin not to run for another presidential term next year, in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Interior Ministry officers maintain order as people stand in a queue to get to an office of the presidential administration during an opposition protest, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin not to run for another presidential term next year, in Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
An Interior Ministry officer maintains order near people, who stand in a queue to get to an office of the presidential administration during an opposition protest, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin not to run for another presidential term next year, in Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
People protest against what they see as the government?s pro-Russia policies near the Russian embassy in Budapest, Hungary, April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
People protest against what they see as the government?s pro-Russia policies near the Russian embassy in Budapest, Hungary, April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
Alexander Litreev, developer of the "Red Button" phone application used to tackle police detention of protesters at demonstrations across the country, poses for a picture in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Open Russia movement coordinator Maria Baronova (2nd R), surrounded by journalists and an Interior Ministry officer, walks during a protest, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin not to run for another presidential term next year, in central Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
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Browder's complaint rests largely on a Daily Beast report published last week alleging that Rohrabacher, a staunch defender of Russia and Putin, met with officials from the prosecutor general's office in Moscow in April 2016. The report said he accepted a "confidential" document that Rohrabacher then used to try to undermine the Magnitsky Act on Capitol Hill.

"Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress ... could have a very favorable response from the Russian side," the document said, according to the Daily Beast.

Upon returning to Washington, DC, Rohrabacher tried to organize a show-trial of Browder in front of Congress that would have included a screening of an anti-Magnitsky Act film that attacked Browder, The Daily Beast reported. The hearing was ultimately canceled when Republican Party leaders intervened, and the film was shown at the Newseum instead of on Capitol Hill.

The complaint Browder filed on July 21 alleges that Rohrabacher "made personal introductions for lobbyists advocating the Russian government's and Grin's position against the Magnitsky Act." Those people, according to the complaint, include Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin — both of whom attended a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June to discuss a possible repeal of the Magnitsky Act.

"These actions constitute services provided to a SDN [specially designated national] by US persons in apparent violation of the Magnitsky Act sanctions which expressly forbid US persons to provide such services," the complaint says of Rohrabacher's activities last summer.

Browder, who filed the complaint, told Business Insider that he would be "surprised" if the Treasury did not take it seriously.

"The violations are brazen and when you get into sanctions offenses, politics disappear almost completely," he said.

Rohrabacher's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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