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22 Mar, 2013 11:53

Magnitsky case caused by tax evasion, not whistleblowing – Russian investigators

Magnitsky case caused by tax evasion, not whistleblowing – Russian investigators

Russia’s top law enforcement agency has rejected claims that the criminal investigation against Sergey Magnitsky was connected with his attempt to incriminate law enforcers of large-scale embezzlement of state funds.

The statements that the criminal prosecution of Magnitsky was connected with his attempts to uncover the law enforcers’ complicity in the embezzlement of 5.4 billion rubles ($180 million) in state funds were verified by the investigation and rejected by the obtained evidence,” reads the official letter published on the Investigative Committee’s website.

The letter also reads that the fact that Magnitsky had voiced suggestions that some people could be complicit in such a crime cannot become a basis for a criminal probe.

The investigators said that they had held looked into both the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and the legality of the criminal probe against him. They paid special attention to all arguments expressed in the numerous appeals, mass media reports and rights watchdogs’ addresses and found that the existing evidence completely disproves these claims.

The criminal case against Magnitsky, who was suspected of ‘assisting to tax evasion by minimization of taxable base through false hiring of disabled people’, had every reason to exist, Russia’s top law enforcement agency claims. This is proven, among other things, by the testimony of the disabled persons who Magnitsky hired to work for him only on paper, it added.

Magnitsky was placed into pre-trial custody in accordance with the law and the defense team’s right to appeal was not infringed, the Investigative Committee claims. Moreover, the appeals took place and were turned down by the courts in full accordance with the generally accepted procedure, the agency’s letter reads.

The conditions of the suspect’s incarceration were not different from those of other inmates and he was not subjected to torture or any other pressure, investigators said. It was the complete absence of objective proof behind the claims that Magnitsky himself was a victim of a crime that allowed the body of preliminary investigation to close the criminal case due to the absence of the crime itself.

Sergey Magnitsky was an accountant and auditor who worked for the British investment company Hermitage Capital Management. In 2009, he died in a Moscow prison after spending about a year in pre-trial custody while under investigation over a multi-million-dollar embezzlement scheme. Russian authorities established that the cause of death was severe pancreatitis and heart disease.

Two doctors were charged with criminal negligence over the death. One was acquitted by the court and charges against the other were dropped as the statute of limitations had expired.

Former colleagues and bosses of the late auditor claimed that Magnitsky in fact uncovered a tax evasion scheme he was suspected of. They also claimed that a group of corrupt officials allegedly organized the auditor’s imprisonment and eventual death in order to cover up their crimes.

Russian investigators, in turn, claim Magnitsky’s statements were not reports about crimes, but a testimony within the criminal case that had been already opened against him and his superiors.

The investigation into the major tax evasion continues. William Browder – the founder and head of the Hermitage Capital Management - is one of the chief suspects in the case. Browder was charged in absentia as he currently resides in Britain and refuses to appear before a Russian court.