By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – A Russian court has acquitted the only person to be formally tried in the death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison three years ago after uncovering tax fraud by Russian officials. Dr. Dmitry Kratov was head of medical services at Butyrka Prison, where Magnitsky was held, and had been accused of negligently refusing requests to treat Magnitsky’s life-threatening hepatitis, diabetes, and heart condition.
Last Monday, prosecutors, in an unusual move, asked for charges to be dropped against Kratov, with which the court agreed Friday. The prosecutors changed direction, no longer pressing for a conviction, four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin stated at a news conference that Magnitsky had died of natural causes and was not tortured in prison.
The Moscow Tverskoy District Court Judge, finding no connection between Dr. Kratov’s lack of medical care and Magnitsky’s death, further stated that Kratov could sue the government for illegal prosecution.
However, according to Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer representing the Magnitsky family, Kratov signed paperwork to refuse Magnitsky’s repeated requests to be moved from prison to a hospital. Furthermore, Gorokhov claims that Kratov was aware that Magnitsky had been diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones five days before Magnitsky’s death.
Furthermore, prosecutor Dmitry Bobkov earlier stated that Kratov “failed to organize the necessary diagnostic and treatment measures, which resulted in Magnitsky’s death,” but also claimed that Kratov never received complaints from Magnitsky nor was informed by staff members.
60 Russian officials were implicated by the United States Helsinki Commission as allegedly playing roles in Magnitsky’s death. Charges were brought against some of those 60, but dropped earlier this year against all, including another doctor, except Kratov.
Magnitsky’s employer, Hermitage Capital, issued the following statement Friday: “There is no doubt that people responsible for Magnitsky’s death are being protected by the president of Russia . . . Now that President Putin is personally involved in the obstruction of justice in a major case of extrajudicial killing, he will have to face the consequences of his actions.”
Instead, it is the late Magnitsky who faces judicial prosecution. After blowing the whistle in 2008 on a $230 million tax scam by Russian tax and police officials against his employer Hermitage Capital, Magnitsky was promptly thrown in prison by those he had accused on charges of the very same tax fraud he had uncovered. Although the case was closed after Magnitsky’s death, it was again reopened in August 2011. In February 2012 investigators then announced plans to try the deceased Magnitsky, and in November prosecutors sent the case to court.
Magnitsky and his employer, London-based head of Hermitage Capital William Browder who is being tried in absentia, are accused of $17.1 million in tax evasion.
Last week, Russian prosecutors went ahead with the beginning of the posthumous fraud trial against Magnitsky before the Tverskoy District Court (the same court which acquitted Kratov). However, the preliminary hearing in the case was postponed until January 28th because the defense lawyers representing the Magnitsky family refused to participate, citing the illegality of trying a dead man.
Gorokhov, who continues to represent the Magnitsky’s family, has stated that he has “no plans to participate in an unconstitutional affair.”
Gorokhov has argued that posthumous legal proceedings are only appropriate if aimed at quashing a previous conviction or rehabilitation. According to Gorokhov, to continued fraud probe against Magnitsky, which was initiated by prosecutors despite requests by Magnitsky’s relatives to the contrary, also violates a decision by Russia’s Constitutional Court.
Browder, who has campaigned to punish those allegedly responsible for Magnitsky’s death, denounced the fraud trial as “an act of reprisal against those who exposed the criminal group of corrupt officials.”
For further information, please see:
Rights in Russia – Write to Your MP on the Sergei Magnitsky Case – 1 January 2013
Moscow Times – Former Butyrka Doctor Acquitted of Negligence Charges in Magnitsky Case – 28 December 2012
New York Times – Russian Acquittal Escalates Human Rights Feud With U.S. – 28 December 2012
RFE/RL – Moscow Court Acquits Doctor In Magnitsky Case – 28 December 2012
ABS-CBN News – Russia Puts Dead Lawyer on Trial – 27 December 2012