US Government Escalates Criticism of Russia’s Handling of Magnitsky Case

May 28, 2012

As the US Congress considers passing the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, the U.S. State Department has come out with strong language criticizing the Russian government in their handling of the investigation into the death of Sergei Magnitsky in state custody in 2009. In the annual Report on Human Rights Practices for 2011 (, the U.S. State Department describes in detail the continued impunity of Russian government officials who were involved in the false arrest, torture and death of Sergei Magnitsky.

The report stated: “There were a number of significant developments during the year in the case of Sergey Magnitskiy, a lawyer who died of medical neglect and abuse while in pretrial detention in 2009. In May the Prosecutor General’s Office concluded its probe into the Ministry of Internal Affairs officers who arrested and prosecuted Magnitskiy. It found no evidence of wrongdoing. In June the Prosecutor General’s Office approved the findings of the Ministry of Internal Affairs officers accused by Magnitskiy of tax fraud and the theft of 5 billion rubles (approximately $150 million). In their report the officers claimed that Magnitskiy himself carried out the theft that he reported to authorities.”

The report also highlights the fact that nobody has been prosecuted in Russia in spite of former President Medvedev’s personal intervention into the case after his Human Rights Council named names and the crimes of various Russian officials.

“Following the release of the council’s findings, President Medvedev acknowledged that a “crime had been committed.” However, on August 2, police refused a request by the council to reinvestigate Magnitskiy’s death,” says the U.S State Department’s report.

Finally, the U.S. State Department highlighted that Sergei Magnitsky was abused in custody in response to his testifying against Russian officials who were involved in large-scale Russian corruption.

“Corruption was widespread throughout the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at all levels of government… When whistleblowers complained about official corruption, sometimes the same government official who was the subject of the complaint was asked to investigate, which often led to retaliation against the whistleblower, generally in the form of criminal prosecution. A prominent example is that of Sergey Magnitskiy, who was prosecuted by the same Internal Affairs Ministry officers he implicated in the theft of five billion rubles… through a fraudulent tax rebate scheme,” said the US State Department.

The State Department’s report was followed by a robust statement by the US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul at a speech given at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow on May 25, 2012. In his speech McFaul stated for the first time that he was an actual author of the US Government’s current visa ban on Russian officials who were involved in the torture and death of Mr. Magnitsky. He also stated that he was responsible for banning other Russian human rights abusers.

In a separate development, last Friday the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced that they could not come to a decision on approving an independent investigation into the death of Sergei Magnitsky. The decision will be postponed until late June at the next meeting of the Bureau in Strasbourg.

On 30 April 2012, a special investigation was called for by a motion entitled “Refusing Impunity for the Killers of Sergei Magnitsky” signed by 69 members of Parliament from 29 countries of the Council of Europe Russian Duma representative, Leonid Slutsky, said that the Russian delegation had fought hard to block the investigation, and that their fight was supported by PACE’s Special Rapporteurs on Russia, Mr Andreas Gross (MP from Switzerland and Chairperson of Political Group: Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs) and Mr György Frunda, MP from Romania and Third Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

“After a hard discussion, we were able to convince the [PACE] Bureau that there was no need to prepare a separate report on the investigation of the death in jail of lawyer Mr Magnitsky. Of course, the position of Co-Rapporteurs Andreas Gross and György Frunda was in full support of the position not to do a separate report on this [Magnitsky] matter,” said Leonid Slutsky, Russian MP and Deputy Head of the Russian delegation to PACE, according to Rosbalt news agency’s report on Friday, 25 May 2012.

The Magnitsky motion signed by the Council of Europe’s parliamentarians sides with the U.S. State Department’s conclusion of the failure of Russian authorities to prosecute Magnitsky’s killers and calls for its own investigation:

“According to investigators, following the events in question, the officials concerned acquired luxury properties and other assets whose value far exceeds what they could afford on their salaries as public servants. The competent authorities have nevertheless failed to properly investigate and prosecute those responsible for Mr Magnitsky’s death. Instead, they have continued to accuse Mr Magnitsky, even seeking to prosecute him posthumously… For the sake of its own credibility and that of the Russian Federation, the Assembly should now engage in co-operation with Russia, through the preparation of a dedicated report, in order to fully elucidate this landmark case.”


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