The Wall Street Journal: Russia Criticized Over Jail Death Probe
April 23, 2010
Two prominent Russian human-rights advocates Thursday accused authorities of dragging their feet in the investigation of the jailhouse death in November of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer working for a U.S. investment fund.
Valery Borshchev, head of an independent advisory commission legally empowered to monitor human rights in prison, said prosecutors and other investigators haven’t responded as the law requires to a scathing report on Mr. Magnitsky’s case his panel issued in December.
That report accused investigators, judges and jail officials of deliberately subjecting Mr. Magnitsky to inhumane conditions and depriving him of vital medical care in an effort to pressure him into giving testimony that investigators sought. He died Nov. 16 at Moscow’s Butyrka prison after suffering gall stones.
Mr. Magnitsky, who was 37, had been in jail for a year on charges of tax evasion and fraud after he accused senior police officials of stealing $234 million in taxes paid by his client, the Hermitage Capital investment fund. His case was assigned to the same investigators that he accused in the massive fraud.
The outcry around Mr. Magnitsky’s death drew the attention of President Dmitry Medvedev, who ordered an investigation and removed a number of senior prison officials. So far, however, prosecutors have categorized it only as a case of possible negligence.
Mr. Borshchev said the case merited more serious charges. “It was the deliberate creation of torturous conditions for Sergei Magnitsky with the goal of obtaining the testimony the investigators sought,” Mr. Borshchev said. “There needs to be a criminal case here.”
Spokespeople for the Interior Ministry, prisons and prosecutor said they couldn’t comment on the case Thursday. In the weeks after Mr. Magnitsky’s death, they rejected his allegations of major fraud and torture and said his death was a tragic accident.
Mr. Borshchev said unofficially, prosecutors have told him they are studying his panel’s report. He said they also agreed to do another analysis of the cause of death, which prison examiners originally reported as heart failure. But he noted that at least one of the prison officials removed after Mr. Magnitsky’s death has been reappointed to another job. None have been charged with any crimes, he said.
Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of Russia’s most prominent human-rights groups and a member of a presidential advisory panel, said Mr. Medvedev was “horrified” by the case. Unfortunately, the case “is not moving despite his opinion,” she said, adding that she plans to call for a criminal probe at a regular meeting of the presidential panel next week.
Hermitage was one of the largest foreign investment funds in Russia, until its founder and CEO, U.S.-born William Browder, had his Russian visa revoked in 2005 on national-security grounds. Russian officials have charged Mr. Browder and several of his staff with tax evasion and related crimes. They deny the allegations
By GREGORY L. WHITE