By Christina Berger
Special Features Editor
MOSCOW, Russia — Russian officials declared on Monday that the lead investigator in the case against Sergei Magnitsky was not guilty of any legal violations in connection with Magnitsky’s death while he was in police custody. The finding has been widely-criticized and a Kremlin official refuted the finding and urged prosecution over Magnitsky’s death.
Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer working with Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. who had uncovered evidence of a $230 million tax fraud scheme committed in 2007 by Russian tax officials and Interior Ministry investigators, according to colleagues. Magnitsky was arrested himself for the $230 million tax fraud after accusing a handful of officials, including Oleg Silchenko the lead investigator in the case. Magnitsky spent almost a year in pre-trial detention and he died in jail in November 2009 as a result of a serious medical diagnosis made while in detention.
In response to international pressure, President Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly promised a full investigation into Magnitsky’s death. On Monday, Russia’s Investigative Committee stated that prosecutors had found that Silchenko had not allowed any legal violations in the case of Magnitsky. The Interior Ministry, where Silchenko holds the rank of colonel after having been promoted since Magnitsky first accused officials of the tax fraud, declined to comment.
In response to the Investigative Committee’s findings, Valery Borschev, a member of a human rights panel set up by President Medvedev, urged that Silchenko be prosecuted for the “central role” he played in Magnitsky’s death. According to Borschev, Magnitsky had complained of acute abdominal pain, having been diagnosed with a serious pancreatic conduction while in police custody, and it was Silchenko who repeatedly refused to allow Magnitsky medical care including ultra-sounds and an operation.
Borschev said he visited the jail after Magnitsky’s death and he spoke with a doctor who claimed she had tried to transfer Magnitsky to a hospital several times but Silchenko interfered. “They asked to have him taken to the hospital to do an ultrasound examination, and Silchenko gave a definitive refusal,” Borshchev said. “That’s a clear violation of the criminal and professional code.”
Magnitsky documented the treatment he was receiving while in detention, telling of conditions some have labeled torture, as well as the denial of medical care. Some of these writings have been made public since Magnitsky’s death, and according to Borschev, Magnitsky implicated Silchenko as being responsible for denying medical care.
Borschev headed an independent commission ordered by the Kremlin to investigate the Magnitsky case. The preliminary results were released in April and found that the charges brought against Magnitsky had been fabricated and investigators he had accused of the tax fraud were improperly involved in his case. A full report will be submitted to President Medvedev this summer. According to Borschev, President Medvedev has the authority to order a new investigation as a result.
Despite calling for prosecution of Silchenko, Borschev acknowledged over the phone to the Moscow Times that “Silchenko has powerful figures backing him up.” So far no one has been held accountable for Magnitsky’s death, and in fact many of the officials implicated by Magnitsky have been rewarded, promoted, or living beyond their means. A series of videos have been produced by Russian Untouchables detailing this, and episode 1 can be viewed here, episode 2 viewed here, and episode 3 viewed here.
Hermitage CEO William Browder has been calling for the arrest and prosecution of 60 Russian officials connected to Magnitsky’s death. Browder, US-born and London-based, was the biggest foreign investor in Russia until his visa was revoked in 2005 by Russian officials citing national security reasons. It was in 2007 that, according to Hermitage, its Russian offices were raided by Interior Ministry officials and documents were seized that allowed those officials to re-register ownership of Hermitage’s Russian funds. This made it possible for Interior Ministry officials to claim $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates, and was what Magnitsky had uncovered and attempted to report before his arrest.
Many believed that Silchenko was the most likely target of prosecution in connection with the Magnitsky case, and it was viewed as a test of Russia’s law enforcement and judicial systems, especially given that President Medvedev has made fighting corruption and improving those systems a priority of his administration.
“The Russian government appears impervious to the damage to its credibility that this type of whitewash is doing,” Browder said. “It will take many years for the Russian justice system to recover any gloss of credibility after this public and corrupt miscarriage of justice.”
For more information, please see:
BLOOMBERG — Kremlin Ombudsman Urges Prosecution Over Hermitage Death — 31 May 2011
WSJ — Russia Exonerates Lead Investigator in Prison Death — 31 May 2011
MOSCOW TIMES — Prosecutors Support Magnitsky’s Accuser — 31 May 2011
NYT — Police Investigator Is Cleared in Death of Russian Awaiting Trial — 30 May 2011
NYT — After Russian Death, Inquiry Doors Open and Shut — 22 December 2010