A Year Later, No Charges In Magnitsky Death As EU Mulls Visa Bans

Nov 30 2010 | 4:43pm ET

It has been more than a year since Hermitage Capital Management lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison, but it will be at least another three months before Russian officials are prepared to make any definitive statements about it.

The investigation into Magnitsky's Nov. 16, 2009, death in one of Moscow's most notorious jails has been extended until Feb. 24. Magnitsky, who was awaiting trial on tax evasion charges, alleged before his death that he was tortured and denied adequate medical care—and that Russian authorities were seeking to pressure him into withdrawing allegations of fraud directed at the country's interior ministries and into implicating Hermitage founder William Browder.

But to date, no charges have been filed; earlier this month, a Russian investigative committee dismissed allegations of bribe-taking among the investigators in the Magnitsky case and refused to bring charges against those investigators.

Instead, the Interior Ministry has recently given awards to several officials involved in the Magnitsky case, including the investigator who led the case until Magnitsky's death ended it. And the ministry is planning to bring new attention to Browder and Russia's tax evasion case against him.

While the case technically remains open, Interior Ministry investigative committee spokesman Irina Dudukina left little doubt that no charges would be brought.

"Everything has been checked," she said. "The investigators were checked, the judges were checked—and they didn't find anything."

Duduinka is one of those who received an award.

"They're doing something, but to this day, we have neither suspects nor accusations," Yelena Oreshnikova, a lawyer for Magnitsky, told the Moscow News. "The time for a hot pursuit has been wasted. It's difficult to recreate what happened a year ago. But I'd like to believe that the guilty will be punished."

Some lawmakers far from Russia—in the European Union and the United States—plan to do just that, pushing bills that would bar Russian officials implicated in the Magnitsky death from receiving visas. But Russia has pushed back angrily.

The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee voted to recommend banning 60 Russian officials from the European Union. The measure still needs to approved both by the full European Parliament and individual EU state.

But Russian officials wasted no time in savaging the proposal, calling the possible bans "Bolshevik tactics."

The visa bans "could have extremely negative consequences for the entire relationship between Russia and the European Union," Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Duma's foreign affairs committee said. Russia will "very harshly retaliate" if the EU seeks what the country's Foreign Ministry called "direct interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, and open pressure on the judicial system of the Russian Federation."

Russia has not responded with the same heat to the U.S., where two lawmakers are pushing to withhold U.S. visas from a similar list of officials.

The verbal spat between Russia and the EU comes as Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin has begun to push for a visa-free regime between Russia and the EU. Putin also said that Russia might one day seek to join the euro.

"The rapproachement of Russia and Europe is inevitable," Putin said.

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