Monday, 26 September 2016
Last updated 1 hour ago
Jan 4 2013 | 11:28am ET
The only person charged in the death of hedge-fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in Russia has been acquitted, coinciding with that country's passage of an adoption ban for U.S. families in retaliation for an American law barring those tied to Magnitsky's death from entering the U.S.
The acquittal of Dmitry Kratov, a doctor in the prison where Magnitsky was held at the time of his death, came after the prosecutor leading the case against him unexpectedly asked that he be cleared. The trial ended as Russian officials finalized the adoption ban, which came after the U.S. passed a law, named for Magnitsky, barring Russian officials tied to his death from entering the country and freezing their assets.
Magnitsky represented hedge fund Hermitage Capital Management in a tax fraud case, and had accused Russian Interior Ministry officials of defrauding the hedge fund. He was then charged with tax fraud, and spent almost a year in Moscow's most notorious prisons. The 37-year-old was tortured to death, Russian human rights activists allege.
Only two people were ever charged in Magnitsky's death, both doctors. The doctor who treated Magnitsky during his last weeks, Larisa Litvinova, had charges against her dropped last year; officials said that statute of limitations had run out. Other officials linked to Magnitsky's death have been cleared, and some have been promoted.
On Christmas eve, the prosecutor asked the court to acquit Kratov, saying, "there is no cause-and-effect relationship between Kratov's actions and Magnitsky's death." Magnitsky's family has countered that Kratov signed off on Magnitsky's continued imprisonment despite knowing that Magnitsky was ailing. Magnitsky's mother refused to appear in court for the ruling.
"Participation in this court hearing would have been humiliating for me," Natalia Magnitskaya said. "I understand that everything has been decided in advance and everything has been predetermined."
On Dec. 28, the judge cleared Kratov, making him among the fewer than 1% of Russian defendants to win acquittal. Earlier the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that bars Americans from adopting Russian children. Putin's spokesman called it a matter of "national prestige;" Putin himself called the law a reasonable reaction to the Magnitsky law, and said the U.S. had acted "provocatively arrogant."
President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky law earlier last month. At the time, Putin said he knew that "Mr. Magnitsky died not from torture—nobody tortured him," and blasted the U.S.
"Do you think people don't die in American prisons? Come on. And so what? Shall we play it up?"
He also took aim at Hermitage founder William Browder and the deceased.
"This Mr. Magnitsky, as is known, was not some human rights champion; he did not struggle for human rights," Putin said. "He was the lawyer of Mr. Browder, who is suspected by our law enforcement of committing economic crimes."