Biography

Sergei L. Mag­nit­sky was a lawyer, accoun­tant and tax part­ner at Moscow law firm Fire­stone Dun­can. He was arrested in Novem­ber 2008 after he helpedHer­mitage, once Russia’s largest for­eign port­fo­lio investor, reveal the biggest alleged tax fraud in the country’s his­tory. He died in prison while await­ing trial.Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev ordered the chief pros­e­cu­tor and jus­tice min­is­ter to launch an inves­ti­ga­tion into his death. The $230m crime allegedly involved senior police offi­cers, judges, tax offi­cials, bankers and the mafia. Her­mitage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment’s CEO and Founder is William Brow­der, an Amer­i­can financier who took British cit­i­zen­ship and is the grand­son of the for­mer leader of the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist party. Bill Brow­der was a vocal sup­porter of Russia’s prime min­is­ter and for­mer pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The fund man­ager was alleged to have evaded taxes and was barred from the coun­try in 2005 but its CEO denies these allegations.

He urged all his lawyers to leave Rus­sia for their safety but Mag­n­tisky stayed. His arrest came after he tes­ti­fied against a Russ­ian Inte­rior Min­istry offi­cial involved in a tax raid on Hermitage’s offices and the official’s involv­ment in a $230 mil­lion fraud. Mag­nit­sky was charged with par­tic­i­pat­ing in R500m (£10m) tax eva­sion at two sub­sidiaries of Her­mitage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment. Accord­ing to Bill Browder:

Sergei Mag­nit­sky was one of the lawyers who dis­cov­ered the whole crime, fig­ured out who was respon­si­ble and then tes­ti­fied against the police offi­cers — and after he tes­ti­fied against the police offi­cers, the very same police offi­cers had him arrested on spu­ri­ous charges.”

Deaths in prison are a com­mon occurence in Rus­sia but Magnitsky’s role in defend­ing Her­mitage has meant his case has drawn wider atten­tion and imme­di­ate com­ment. Russia’s Pres­i­dent Medvedev has now ordered Russia’s chief pros­e­cu­tor and jus­tice min­is­ter to inves­ti­gate the case accord­ing to a Krem­lin statement.

Med­ical con­di­tion and death

Mag­nit­sky, a 37-year-old father of two sons, died on Mon­day, 16th Novem­ber 2009 in Butyrskaya prison after nearly a year of impris­on­ment in Moscow. He died four days after his last court appear­ance, his heart allegedly stopped due to com­pli­ca­tions of pan­cre­ati­tis, a con­di­tion he had devel­oped dur­ing his incar­cer­a­tion for which he was allegedly refused treatment.

Magnitsky’s mother was told of her son’s death when she arrived at Butyrka deten­tion cen­tre to deliver some per­sonal effects and was told he had been moved to Matrosskaya Tishina. On her arrival there, she was told her son had died the pre­vi­ous day. In July 2009 he was diag­nosed with gall blad­der stones, pan­cre­ati­tis and cal­cu­lous chole­cys­ti­tis. Although prison author­i­ties allowed his rel­a­tives to post him var­i­ous med­i­cine and pills, they did not allow him any more sub­stan­tial treat­ment even though doc­tors said he needed an oper­a­tion. The pain became so crip­pling that towards the end of his life he could not even lie down.

In the last court appear­ance before his death, the pros­e­cu­tion served late new evi­dence to the judge as it sought to extend his deten­tion and the judge accepted it, refus­ing to give Magnitsky’s legal team time to study the mate­r­ial. Mr Mag­nit­sky accused the author­i­ties of turn­ing his trial into a sham and that he had been denied his most basic human rights. His final plea was, “My right… for ade­quate time and facil­i­ties to pre­pare my defence has been brazenly vio­lated and all peti­tions that I sub­mit­ted to the court request­ing that this right be ensured have been sim­ply ignored”.

Autopsy

Russ­ian author­i­ties have refused to allow a sec­ond, inde­pen­dent autopsy. His lawyers said that the author­i­ties orig­i­nally claimed he died from a rup­ture to the abdom­i­nal mem­brane before chang­ing the cause of death to a heart attack. Accod­ing to the Sun­day Tele­graph, when his body was released for bur­ial – just before the funeral — his hands and fin­gers appeared “all smashed up”.

Con­di­tions of Detention

In a 40-page affi­davit sent to Russia’s gen­eral pros­e­cu­tor, Mr Mag­nit­sky recorded his mis­treat­ment and the squalid con­di­tions of the prison in which he was kept for 11 months. At times, he was detained in a 8.2 square metre cell with three fel­low inmates. “Rats run freely along the sewer sys­tem… and at night you can hear them squeak­ing,” he wrote.

Accord­ing to Andrei Jarikov, his brother-in-law, the prison author­i­ties did not act respon­si­bly: “When he com­plained that he was hav­ing prob­lems with his health they sim­ply did noth­ing … They had a duty.”

Jami­son Fire­stone, man­ag­ing part­ner at Fire­stone Dun­can, said: “They took a healthy guy, impris­oned him with­out cause, put him in such hor­rific con­di­tions that he got a severe ill­ness. Then they denied him med­ical care.”

Irina Duduk­ina, spokesman for the pros­e­cu­tors’ inves­tiga­tive com­mit­tee, has stated: “He was a key wit­ness and his evi­dence was very impor­tant. The tragic news about his death came as a com­plete sur­prise. He had com­plained about the con­di­tions of his deten­tion but never his health.”

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