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Pressure Mounts on Interior Ministry in Magnitsky's Death

A screen grab from the just-launched Magnitsky web site, with Interior Ministry official Artyom Kuznetsov's image in the center. Russian-untouchables.com

Former colleagues and friends of Sergei Magnitsky have stepped up their campaign against law enforcement officials whom they implicate in the death of the Hermitage Capital lawyer in a Moscow detention center last year.

On Wednesday they released a wide-ranging web site on the case that features material about dubious property amassed by the family of Artyom Kuznetsov, one of the Interior Ministry officials accused of plotting against Hermitage Capital and law firm Firestone Duncan, where Magnitsky worked.

The web site, Russian-untouchables.com, does not identify its authors, saying instead that it was "produced by the friends of Sergei Magnitsky and many others from around the world" who have been moved by his death.

But it includes two professionally produced videos, in English and Russian, in which Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder and Firestone Duncan managing partner Jamison Firestone present their case.

Browder has been based in London since he was refused entry to Russia in 2005. Firestone moved from Moscow to London last December, saying he feared that he might suffer the same fate as Magnitsky.

In the first video, Browder retells the story of how his firm, once the country's biggest foreign investment fund with more than $4 billion in assets, came under attack from corrupt law enforcement officers.

In the other video, titled, "Kuznetsov's Illicit and Sudden Wealth," Firestone presents apparent evidence that the police lieutenant colonel and his family flaunted millions of dollars, which he claims are proceeds from the attack against Hermitage.

Magnitsky was arrested after accusing Kuznetsov and the other Interior Ministry officials of stealing $230 million in government funds, a charge first made by Browder after ministry investigators accused him of evading more than 100 million rubles ($3.25 million) in taxes in 2002.

Magnitsky, 37, died of heart failure in a Moscow pretrial detention facility in November after officials repeatedly denied him medical treatment for illnesses that he developed while waiting nearly a year for his trial to begin.

Browder and Firestone maintain that Magnitsky was tortured to death.

The Prosecutor General’s Office earlier this month blamed “the low quality of prison medicine” for Magnitsky's “sudden death."

The death prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to fire about 20 senior prison officials and order an investigation. But no one has been charged with wrongdoing, and the Interior Ministry has defended its actions in Magnitsky's case.

The new web site promises to bring new pressure on the Interior Ministry.

The web site says Kuznetsov and his close relatives spent at least $3 million on real estate, cars and travel in 2007 and 2008, an amount that hardly squares with Kuznetsov's official annual income of $10,200.

Among the evidence published are home ownership deeds from a city real estate register for two apartments in prestigious high-rises purchased by Kuznetsov's parents. In January 2007, his mother bought a 154-square-meter apartment in the Edelweiss tower in western Moscow, which the web site's authors estimate to be worth $1.6 million. In November of that year, his father bought a 84-square-meter apartment on Ulitsa Shabolovka valued at $990,000. ? 

The web site also features a loan agreement for a $65,000 Land Rover Freelander in which Kuznetsov’s mother declares a family income of 115,000 rubles ($3,700) per month.

Also published are copies of traffic police car ownership registries for a $131,000 Range Rover and a $81,000 Mercedes SLK sports car owned by Kuznetsov's wife, as well as a 1,241 euro ($1,520) hotel bill from Cyprus for an Artyom Kuznetsov.

Pirated digital copies of real estate and car ownership records are readily available online and at Moscow's electronics markets.

Kuznetsov was an investigator in the Interior Ministry's Moscow branch before being promoted to the ministry's federal-level economic crimes department, Vedomosti reported earlier this year.

Repeated calls to the Interior Ministry's press office and its economic crimes department's press office went unanswered Wednesday.

The data published Wednesday corresponds with an investigation published by Novaya Gazeta last month. The May 26 report said it had sent questions to the Interior Ministry about Kuznetsov's wealth.

Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Sergei Sokolov, who conducted the investigation, said Wednesday that he had not received an answer from the ministry.

The web site also includes a YouTube channel, and Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Its opening came as Medvedev visited California in a bid to attract new capital from U.S. investors to the country.

Firestone said the timing of the opening was not directly related to Medvedev's trip to the United States and that his team had been "working like hell for weeks" to get the web site up.

He said he had hoped to have it up before the EU-Russia summit in Rostov-on-Don on May 31 and then before last week's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"It turns out that we finally got it in presentable shape when Medvedev is busy trying to tell people in America that we have rule of law in Russia, which we clearly do not," he said in e-mailed comments.

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