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EU Questions Russia Over Magnitsky's Death

A senior European Union official questioned Russia's interior and justice ministers Wednesday about the death in custody of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom raised concerns in a meeting with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov about Moscow's failure to investigate officials involved in a $230 million corruption scam surrounding Magnitsky's death.

A statement from Malmstrom's office said her questions at the meeting in Kazan focused on deprivation of medical care for Magnitsky and concealment of information about his state of health before he died.

Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer for Hermitage Capital, once Russia's biggest investment fund, died on Nov. 16 in a Moscow prison hospital while awaiting trial for tax evasion. His relatives say he was denied medical treatment.

Human rights activists have said Russian authorities subjected Magnitsky to conditions amounting to torture in a failed bid to force him to testify in their favor in a battle with Hermitage over tax fraud allegations.

In October 2008, Magnitsky implicated two Interior Ministry officers in an alleged $230 million fraud involving the illegal seizure of Hermitage's Russian investment holding companies to set up fake tax refunds.

Malmstrom's statement said Magnitsky had "courageously testified" about the fraud.

"Despite the high-profile nature of the case, no murder investigation has been initiated, nor have any prosecutions been brought against these interior ministry officers for the theft of $230 million," it said.

The EU statement came ahead of an EU-Russia summit to be held Monday in Rostov-on-Don at which Russia is keen to make progress on relaxation of visa regulations for its citizens wanting to visit the European Union.

Malmstrom stressed before traveling to Russia that the EU linked visa liberalization to respect for human rights.

Last month, a U.S. senator called on Washington to cancel U.S. visa privileges for 60 Russian officials and others over Magnitsky's death.

(Reuters, MT)

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