Investigation into dead lawyer’s case prolonged for three months

Russia’s Investigative Committee has announced that the investigation into the death of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer working for Hermitage Capital investment fund, has been prolonged for three months as investigators need more time to study the case.

­Official spokesman of the Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, said on Tuesday that his agency intended to carry out a number of forensic tests and also to probe money transfers that had been made by the investment fund to the state and to several private companies.

The primary task, however, is the additional forensic test, Markin said. It will be carried out by leading specialists of the federal hospitals specializing in reanimation and heart surgery. Investigators have already collected and thoroughly studies all of the plaintiff’s appeals and complaints, the spokesman said.

The committee was checking the claim by Jamison Firestone, the head of the Firestone Duncan company, who wrote that some Moscow tax inspectorates could be involved in a fraud totaling 5.4 billion rubles (about $180 million), Markin told reporters. Magnitsky’s friends believe he had exposed the fraud scheme, jeopardizing his life. The official said that the statement was duly registered and a pre-investigation check into it was underway, promising to make a procedural decision shortly.

The spokesman admitted that the investigation did not have a wholesome picture of what possibly happened to Magnitsky and thus, the work will continue until at least August 24.

Sergey Magnitsky, 37, died in an IT-ward at the Matrosskaya's Tishina remand prison on November 16, 2009, seven days after he was officially charged with tax evasion. Preliminary reports said Magnitsky had died of cardiac arrest.

Magnitsky, a lawyer who worked for the sister company of the Hermitage Capital Management fund, was detained in November 2008 and charged with major tax fraud. Almost one year later, on November 16, 2009, he died in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow. In November 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into the events behind Magnitsky’s death, both by official investigators and by the Special Council on Human Rights.

Criminal proceedings over Magnitsky's death were opened under Article 124 (failure to provide assistance to a patient) and Article 293 (non-performance or improper performance of duties by an official) of the Russian Criminal Code.

Apart from the official investigation and the work of the presidential council, the owners of the Hermitage Fund launched a major PR campaign seeking to punish the officials who were, in their view, to blame for Magnitsky’s detention and death. This campaign yielded some results, as the European parliament last year called upon its members to issue a visa ban for 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in the case. The Canadian parliament approved a similar resolution and the US Congress also considered drafting a bill called the “Justice for Sergey Magnitsky Act.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has blasted the moves by foreign nations, especially Canada, as attempts to apply pressure on the judicial system.

At the same time, Russian investigators have put the head of the Hermitage Capital, Bill Browder, on the wanted list for having ignored two summonses for questioning within the same tax evasion case. The Moscow Court also issued an arrest warrant for one of the suspects in the case, Magnitsky’s colleague Ivan Cherkasov.