04.08.2011 | Andrew Osborn

Russia resurrects criminal investigation against whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky


Russia has shrugged off international pressure to investigate the controversial prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower, and moved to resurrect a criminal probe against the dead man instead.

Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison. His case has become a focal point for activists seeking to highlight state corruption. 

In a surprise move that angered the late lawyer’s last client, UK-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, prosecutors said they had written to the interior ministry requesting that a tax fraud probe into the late man be restarted.

Before his 2009 death in a Moscow prison, Mr Magnitsky was accused of helping Hermitage evade Russian taxes, a charge which he denied and which was never proven in court.

The late lawyer’s friends insist he was innocent and that the tax case was taken out by corrupt officials he had accused of pulling off the biggest tax fraud in Russian history.

But the Russian authorities, who were last week hit with a US visa ban on dozens of officials involved in the case, appear unmoved.

The probe into Mr Magnitsky’s alleged crimes was shut after he died in a squalid jail at the age of 37 after being withheld essential medical care. Experts who have looked at the case believe he was badly beaten too.

Yet prosecutors now appear to be trying to use a landmark ruling in an unrelated case to reopen the fraud investigation. In another sign that they are intent on ignoring pressure to investigate his death, a top investigator has rejected a proposal from President Dmitry Medvedev’s own human rights advisers to investigate interior ministry officials accused of involvement in Mr Magnitsky’s death.

"From the information cited one can find no grounds to conduct any checks into the alleged wrongdoing of members of the investigative and operational team, " the investigator, Boris Kibis, concluded.

William Browder, Hermitage’s founder, was disappointed. He said of the new case: "It’s a hostile move to open a criminal investigation into a man who has been dead for two years in order to protect the officers who tortured him in custody."

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