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25 Sep, 2020 13:16

Russia launches new probe into death of Bill Browder's tax-auditor Sergey Magnitsky after claims he was poisoned in prison

Russia launches new probe into death of Bill Browder's tax-auditor Sergey Magnitsky after claims he was poisoned in prison

Russian investigators have begun a fresh inquiry into the death of Hermitage Capital auditor Sergei Magnitsky, following allegations that he might have been poisoned before his 2009 death while in custody in Moscow.

Magnitsky died in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, eight days before he was due to stand trial for financial crimes. In recent years, his memory has been turned into a cause célèbre by billionaire Hermitage boss Bill Browder, who is a wanted man in Russia and stands accused of tax offences.

In 2012, a court decided that Magnitsky’s death was due to acute heart failure. However, according to some versions of the story, Magnitsky died after developing gall stones and pancreatitis, having been refused medical treatment. Others have said that he was beaten and tortured. The latest suggestion of poisoning represents a new theory.

“The investigative team has begun a new examination of the Magnitsky case,” said Nikolai Gorokhov, lawyer to the mother of the deceased. “While I am not familiar with the materials, I believe it is connected to the possibility that the lawyer [sic] was administered a military-grade poison.”

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The possibility that Magnitsky was poisoned was first announced by the prosecutor general's office at a press conference in 2018. An employee of the office, Mikhail Alexandrov, suggested that Magnitsky could have been killed with “chemicals containing aluminum compounds,” and that Browder could be to blame.

“Browder had a motive to physically eliminate Magnitsky, in order to cover up the crimes he had committed,” Alexandrov said.

Nikolay Tutevich, the investigator assigned to the probe, has requested access to all medical documents related to the criminal case, which are usually stored in the archive of Moscow's Tverskoy Court. The investigation also pertains to the deaths of three other people who at one time worked for Hermitage Capital.

In November 2008, auditor Magnitsky was arrested on charges of being complicit in tax evasion. A year later, Magnitsky and Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder were charged with tax evasion amounting to 522 million rubles ($6.7 million). Magnitsky died before the trial could begin. However, in 2013, Browder was convicted in absentia and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Five years later, the Russian prosecutor general's office opened a new case against Browder, accusing him of forming a criminal community.

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Since Magnitsky's death, Browder has courted governments around the world to punish those he deems responsible. Browder, a hedge-fund manager who gave up his US passport to avoid paying taxes, has been accused by German magazine Der Spiegel of fabricating parts of Magnitsky's story. Through his activism, Browder has helped countries such as the US to impose sanctions on Russia.

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