Report Blames Prison Officials In Magnitsky Death, Russian President Cites 'Criminal Actions'

Jul 7 2011 | 10:25am ET

Nearly two years after Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called his treatment "criminal" in the wake of a damning report blaming prison officials for the hedge fund lawyer's death.

A report issued yesterday by Medvedev's investigative council concluded that Magnitsky, who represented Hermitage Capital Management, "was completely deprived of medical care. Additionally, there are grounds to suspect that Magnitsky's death was the result of a beating," and not merely the pancreatitis he contracted during the year he spent behind bars on suspicion of tax evasion.

One member of the investigative committee went even further, telling The Telegraph, "we have concluded he died of a beating. It was real torture to beat an ailing man with truncheons."

The report said that Magnitsky's family "found that he had broken fingers and bruises on his body" and that "there is no medical record for the last hour of his life," an hour during which an ambulance was ready outside of the prison to take Magnitsky to a hospital.

Instead, prison officials barred paramedics access to Magnitsky and handcuffed him in a small room. Medics were not allowed to reach Magnitsky until 15 minutes after his death.

Another member of the committee, Valery Borshchev, called the official report blaming Magnitsky's death on heart failure "false."

"The case of Magnitsky is a very sad case, for the man is dead, and in all likelihood, there were certain criminal actions that led to this result," Medvedev said on Tuesday. The president has vowed to clean up Russia's judicial system and has pledged to send his committee's report to prosecutors.

"People should not die in prison," Medvedev added. "If they are sick, they should leave prison to be treated, after which the courts can make a decision about their fate."

Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team and the newly-elected head of pro-Kremlin party Right Cause, blasted the Russian judicial system last month and pledged the party would "definitely" investigate Medvedev's death.

Medvedev's council laid blame for Magnitsky's death with prison officials, some of whom have been fired, but also pointed fingers higher up the chain of command.

"The case linked to Sergei Magnitsky was investigated by the very same employees of the Interior Ministry and of the investigative committee against whom he made accusations," the report concluded. Magnitsky and Hermitage had accused members of the Interior Ministry of using documents seized during a raid on Hermitage's Moscow office to steal hundreds of millions in assets from the hedge fund.

"This conflict of interest testifies either to negligence or to a particular interest on the part of those leading the investigation."

"Of course the doctors are guilty, but all of this was orchestrated by investigator Silchenko and the warden of the jail," Borshchev told The Wall Street Journal, referring to Oleg Silchenko, who ordered Magnitsky's arrest. "Everything that happened in the jail was orchestrated by the investigator."

Silchenko was cleared of wrongdoing by the Interior Ministry in May, but is listed, alongside fellow investigators Artyom Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, Moscow Judge Sergei Podoprigorov and prison doctor Alexandra Gaus in the report, although none is explicitly cited for wrongdoing.

Still, another council member, Kirill Kabanov, told RIA Novosti, "speaking about names, I want to specify structures that may be involved. These are the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor General's office, the Federal Security Service, the Ministry of Taxes and Collections, and the Finance Ministry."

For its part, Hermitage called the report promising but insisted that prison officials were "not the principals in this case" but "tools" of Silchenko and other top officials. Russian officials may have indicated a move towards rapprochement with Hermitage by removing the hedge fund's founder, William Browder, from the international wanted list. The case against Browder, who, like Magnitsky, was accused of tax evasion and fraud, could be dropped shortly.


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