Magnitsky case sent back to investigators

The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has ordered that the case of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died at a Moscow pre-trial detention center in 2009, be reopened.

The highly contentious case – which resonated across the international community and caused a visa raw between Moscow and Washington – was sent back to investigators, Kommesrant daily reported Tuesday.

The prosecutors’ decision to reopen the case is based on the Constitutional Court’s July 11 ruling to abrogate Criminal Procedure Code provisions which had allowed for investigations to be closed in the event that a suspect died before their completion.As investigations could previously be closed without the consent of the deceased relatives, the new provisions will be seen as a victory for those who would like to posthumously clear the names of their loved ones.

The Prosecutor General’s Office ruled that the investigative body’s decision to close the case was unconstitutional, as Magnitsky’s mother and wife have not agreed to its closure.

The high-profile case was sent to the Interior Ministry’s investigative department last week.Citing the department, the Kommersant paper writes that it is unlikely that the new investigation would take a lot of time since Magnitsky died at the final stage of the procedure – his defense team was in the process of examining the case materials.

The Magnitsky family lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, said that he had learned about the new twist in the case from the paper.

“It was not done on our initiative. Nevertheless, it is good news. We hope the investigation will lead to Sergey [Magnitsky’s] rehabilitation. No other result will suit us,” he told Kommersant. He added, though, that it is hard to imagine that investigators would suddenly acknowledge that “they had kept an innocent person behind bars for a year”, fearing that in the end, they would “do everything as usual”.

Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer for the Hermitage Capital Management Fund, was arrested by Russian authorities on charges of alleged tax evasion, and died of a heart attack while in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility on November 16, 2009. The fund maintained that the true reason for his detention was that he had uncovered a multi-million corruption scheme involving high-ranking state officials. His family and colleagues also claimed he was abused in prison and deliberately denied medical treatment.

In July of this year, Russian authorities initiated criminal cases against two former prison doctors who were accused of criminal negligence that resulted in the death of Magnitsky.

Meanwhile, the case keeps drawing widespread attention and criticism, which last week culminated in the Obama administration’s decision to impose a travel ban on 60 Russian nationals, which Washington alleges are complicit in Magnitsky’s death. The Kremlin was “perplexed” by the decision, and ordered the Foreign Ministry to come up with an adequate response which would see the introduction of similar measures against US citizens.

In December of last year, the European Parliament backed a resolution that called on member states to introduce sanctions against the 60 Russian officials involved in the Sergey Magnitsky case. The move was met with a sharp reaction from the Russian State Duma, which called the resolution a crude intervention into the country’s internal affairs.

Earlier, the Canadian parliament’s subcommittee on human rights adopted a resolution to deny visas and freeze the Canadian assets of those Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of the lawyer.

Magnitsky’s death was one of the key factors that prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to propose a law abolishing the arrest of severely ill suspects who have been charged with financial crimes.

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