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26 Nov, 2009 12:38

Russian prison service admits responsibility for lawyer's death in custody

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday ordered police and prosecutors to investigate the death of Sergey Magnitsky, Hermitage Capital Investment's tax adviser, who died in custody earlier this month.

The Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s office on Wednesday denied the claims that Magnitsky was ultimately murdered because he was deliberately denied medical care. The 37-year-old Magnitsky, who worked as a lawyer for British investment fund, Hermitage Capital, died on November 16 in Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison.

According to prison authorities, the inmate died of heart failure. Magnitsky had been held in pre-trial custody for almost a year while Russian police looked into Hermitage Capital over a 500 million rouble (about $17 million) tax evasion.

After Magnitsky’s death his defense lawyers, relatives and colleagues said that the prison administration knew about his poor health but deliberately took no action in order to apply pressure on the suspect.

Human rights activists, including the head of the President’s Council for Civil Society, and NGOs, Ella Pamfilova, have also expressed concern about the circumstances of his death.

The Committee insists Magnitsky never said a word about his health.

“He never said anything to the investigator that he was suffering strong pain,” Committee spokesperson, Irina Dudukina, said.

The President’s press service earlier reported that Dmitry Medvedev has asked the Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov to verify the quality of medical services in the institutions of the Federal Penitentiary Service.

President Medvedev also gave instructions to look at the practice of detaining persons who have committed their first crime in the economic field.