Russia launches two criminal cases into Magnitsky’s death

Butyrskaya prison medical ward (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Kudenko)
Russian authorities have initiated criminal cases against two former prison doctors who are accused of negligence that resulted in the death of Sergei Magnitsky – the lawyer who worked for a major international investment fund.

The report concerning the instigation of the criminal cases appeared on the web-site of the Russian Investigation Committee on Monday. It said that two former doctors who worked in the Butyrskaya pre-trial detention center are suspected of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of Sergei Magnitsky – a lawyer who worked for the Hermitage Capital investment fund who died in a detention center while on trial over large-scale tax fraud. The accused are Larisa Litvinova, the doctor who was responsible for Magnitsky’s treatment, and Dmitry Kratov, the former deputy director of the detention center and Litvinova’s former boss.

Both suspects were fired from the Butyrskaya prison soon after Magnitsky’s death in 2009. The proceedings will be folded into the ongoing case pertaining to the lawyer’s death.

The Investigative Committee reported in early June of this year that their probe had shown that “a lack of medical treatment bore a direct causal relationship to Magnitsky’s death”.

Before that, the Russian Presidential Council for Human Rights and Non-Governmental Organizations held an independent probe into the case, saying that the head of the pre-trial detention center, together with the investigators who had conducted the investigation into allegations of tax fraud, deliberately prevented Magnitsky from receiving medical treatment, in particular by refusing to transfer the inmate to a different prison with better conditions and a higher quality of medical facilities.

Also on Monday, two more lawsuits concerning Magnitsky’s case were filed in Russian courts. One of the investigators sued three Russian HR activists and members of the presidential council – Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Kirill Kabanov and Tamara Morschakova – in a desire to refute the information in the council’s report. Investigator Pavel Karpov said that he was not working on the tax fraud case in which Magnitsky was involved as a suspect, saying that the rights activists based their reports only on the statements made by PR executives working for the head of the Hermitage Fund William Browder. Karpov also said that he was only interested in disclosing the truth and thus estimated his moral damages as a symbolic sum of one ruble.

The other lawsuit was filed by Vladlen Stepanov, a businessman and the husband of the tax inspector Olga Stepanova. The businessman sued the popular Russian blogger and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny for posting a report that Stepanova approved the illegal return of 5.4 billion rubles of income tax. Navalny also wrote that after the illegal transfer, Stepanova and her husband bought real estate in UAE, Montenegro and Russia. Stepanov is now seeking 1 million rubles (over $33000) from Navalny in compensation for damages to his honor, dignity and business reputation. Navalny wrote in his blog on Monday that the lawsuit was a complete surprise to him and he was yet to see any papers pertaining to it.

Magnitsky, a thirty-seven-year-old lawyer who had worked for a major foreign investment fund, died from heart failure in November 2009 while in a Moscow pre-trial detention center.He was being investigated in a major tax evasion case.

The lawyer’s death caused outrage among the top managers of the Hermitage Capital Management fund where he had worked, especially from Bill Browder, the fund’s head. Investors launched a major PR campaign in Russia and abroad, accusing certain Russian officials from the police, the justice ministry, and the tax ministry of corruption and embezzlement.

Due to public interest, the Russian President had to intervene, ordering an additional probe into the case. As a result, several top officials from the justice ministry were sacked and Russian legislation was amended so that people suspected of economic crimes could not be incarcerated prior to standing trial.