Russia closes investigation into lawyer Sergei Magnitsky's jail death

Lawyer had accused officials of €175m theft

A picture of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is seen on his grave in the Preobrazhensky cemetery in Moscow. Photograph: Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters

A picture of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is seen on his grave in the Preobrazhensky cemetery in Moscow. Photograph: Mikhail Voskresensky/Reuters

Wed, Mar 20, 2013, 07:27

DANIEL McLAUGHLIN


Russia has closed an investigation into how a lawyer who accused officials of stealing some 175 million euros died in a Moscow jail cell. Sergei Magnitsky claimed that tax and police officials conspired to seize control of part of investment firm Hermitage Capital, and then used its documents to illegally reclaim huge tax rebates from the Russian state.

After lodging his complaint with the Russian authorities, Magnitsky himself was arrested and charged with fraud. He died in pre-trial detention at the age of 37.

Officials said he suffered a heart attack, but the Kremlin’s own human rights council said he had been denied treatment for medical problems for almost a year and was probably beaten to death. In a macabre twist, Magnitsky is now being tried posthumously in a Moscow court, in what is believed to be the first ever trial of its kind in Russia.

“In the course of the criminal investigation, no objective facts were established regarding a crime committed against Sergei Magnitsky,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said. Magnitsky’s death has soured ties between Moscow and the West. The US slapped a visa ban on Russian officials suspected of involvement in the case and froze their US assets. The European Union is considering the adoption of similar measures. Russia responded by drawing up its own blacklist of US officials allegedly involved in rights abuses, and by banning US adoptions of Russian children. Hermitage has gathered evidence against officials that it accuses of fraud, but Russian authorities have shown no interest in investigating them.

“This was to be expected,” Magnitsky’s mother, Natalya, said in a statement released by Hermitage. “I don’t believe that it is possible today to obtain the truth in Russia since somebody has an interest in concealing it and somebody is controlling this case.”