Support The Moscow Times!

Medvedev Orders Magnitsky Probes

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday ordered prosecutors and the Justice Ministry to investigate the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison, a day after he was publicly pressed by his human rights advisers on the case.

Just hours after Medvedev ordered the inquiry, the Investigative Committee said in a statement that it had opened a criminal case over negligence and prison officials’ failure to provide medical aid. Both charges carry maximum sentences of three years in prison.

Law enforcement authorities and state-controlled media had been largely silent on the case, making Tuesday’s sudden response look like a sign of obedience.

Medvedev ordered Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to investigate the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death, the Kremlin said in a statement.

The president also demanded an investigation into the general treatment of people detained for economic crimes, and he requested proposals for improving the conditions in which they are held.

Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer representing Hermitage Capital Management, died Nov. 16 in a Moscow prison hospital from what the Interior Ministry said was heart failure.

Hermitage, once the country’s biggest foreign investor, became embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Russian authorities. Magnitsky worked at Firestone Duncan, the law firm representing Hermitage in the politically tainted tax-evasion case, and was the only defendant.

Magnitsky complained of stomach ailments after being jailed almost a year ago, and his supporters blame the country’s notorious prison system for not properly attending to his medical needs. Hermitage has said prosecutors rejected his family’s request for an independent autopsy.

The Prosecutor General’s Office on Tuesday said it was continuing to look into whether Magnitsky’s rights to medical treatment and decent living conditions were violated. The procedure was started shortly after Magnitsky’s death.

Spokeswoman Maria Gridnyeva said the probe was handed over to federal prosecutors after Medvedev’s remarks.

On Monday, the president met with his human rights council, where Ella Pamfilova, the body’s head, called Magnitsky’s death “a murder and a tragedy.” At the time, Medvedev had no immediate reaction to the case or other specific abuses discussed during the meeting.

Veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a member of the council, welcomed Medvedev’s decision but said it probably had more to do with media coverage.

“It is very good that he listened to us, but I do not think that this probe was ordered because of our meeting Monday,” Alexeyeva told The Moscow Times.

She argued that coverage in national and international media probably had put the Kremlin under pressure.

Hermitage CEO Bill Browder, whom Moscow has put on its wanted list in connection with the tax evasion case, on Tuesday repeated his allegations against law enforcement authorities.

“The big picture here is that the Russian criminal justice system is occupied by members of organized crime who are using their powers to terrorize innocent individuals like Sergei,” he told Reuters in an interview. “This can happen to anybody — anyone doing business in Russia is at risk of being killed by corrupt police officers.”

Representatives for the Interior and Justice ministries did not immediately react to the allegations.

Browder was banned from the country in 2005 as a threat to the nation’s health or security after accusing Interior Ministry officials of being involved in a scam to steal more than 500 million rubles ($17.3 million) in budget funds. Hermitage alleges that officers implicated in the theft were involved in Magnitsky’s arrest.

Writing in The Moscow Times, Magnitsky’s former boss, Jamison Firestone, also accused corrupt Interior Ministry officials of being responsible for his employee’s death.

Medvedev has frequently spoken against human rights violations during his presidency, but critics say the situation has not really improved. Last week, Medvedev told Konovalov that punishment for criminals should be “modern, not medieval.”

Konovalov, who like Medvedev is a graduate of St. Petersburg State University’s law department, is seen as among the president’s closest allies in the government, which is staffed almost exclusively by holdovers from his predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this year, the Justice Ministry prepared a package of changes to make the Criminal Code more liberal. The reforms include reducing punishments for economic crimes.

… we have a small favor to ask.

As you may have heard, The Moscow Times, an independent news source for over 30 years, has been unjustly branded as a "foreign agent" by the Russian government. This blatant attempt to silence our voice is a direct assault on the integrity of journalism and the values we hold dear.

We, the journalists of The Moscow Times, refuse to be silenced. Our commitment to providing accurate and unbiased reporting on Russia remains unshaken. But we need your help to continue our critical mission.

Your support, no matter how small, makes a world of difference. If you can, please support us monthly starting from just 2. It's quick to set up, and you can be confident that you're making a significant impact every month by supporting open, independent journalism. Thank you.


Read more