HR council calls charges against dead lawyer a “fabrication” - report

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The working group of the Russian President’s Human Rights Council has decided that the charges of tax fraud brought against Russian Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody awaiting trial, was fabricated, according to one Russian newspaper.

­According to an article in Vedomosti newspaper on Tuesday, particular government institutions were responsible for fabricating charges against Magnitsky.

Vedomosti, quoting the results of an experts’ evaluation of the criminal case materials, reported that “the charges against Sergey Magnitsky have been fabricated by staff members of the Interior Ministry and the State Security Service.”

The report also said that the charges were not based on facts, that Magnitsky was not a founder of a top manager in any of the involved companies and none of the deceased lawyer’s clients had problems with taxes.

The report goes on to suggest that the investigators into the high-profile case could have had personal motives in prosecuting Magnitsky, since he had accused in the past some investigators in the case of corruption.

On Tuesday, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, was quoted as saying that the probe into Sergey Magnitsky’s case is not finished.

“The expertise is not yet completed. It will be ready in the nearest future. Probably, already in May,” Interfax quoted Alekseyeva as saying.   

Another council member, Mara Polyakova, also said that despite the fact that the independent probe had made some progress, it is far from completion.

“Some part of the work is done. But not all directions are completed. The corruption part of the probe is still in the works,”
Polyakova told Interfax.

Sergei 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.

Magnitsky’s lawyers said that prison authorities deliberately denied the lawyer medical attention, while 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 “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act.”

In Russia, the case also caused broad public discussion, and in November 2009 President  Medvedev ordered an investigation into the events behind Magnitsky’s death. Although that investigation is still ongoing, many high-placed officials in the police and Justice Ministry have been fired. Meanwhile, various aspects of Russian law have been amended to prevent defendants in economic crimes from being placed in pre-trial detention.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Ministry has blasted the moves by foreign nations, especially Canada, as attempts to apply pressure on justice.