MOSCOW, April 27 (RIA Novosti) – The death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility in 2009 was a “tragedy,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, but insisted no crime had been committed.
“Investigation bodies came to the conclusion that there was no ill intention, no criminal negligence,” Putin said in an interview with the state-run Rossiya-1 TV channel. “A tragedy occurred.”
“There was no torture,” Putin said. “There was nothing that would demand any criminal charges being brought.”
Magnitsky was detained in November 2008 after alleging a $230 million tax-embezzlement scheme by Russian officials and died less than a year later in a pre-trial detention center.
Magnitsky’s former boss, William Browder, the head of equity fund Hermitage Capital, has alleged the Muscovite lawyer was killed in revenge for uncovering the purported embezzlement scheme.
Investigators initially said the 37-year-old lawyer had died of “heart failure,” but in 2011 the Kremlin’s human rights council said there were “grounds to suspect that Magnitsky’s death was the result of a beating” and the denial of medical assistance. Late last year, however, Putin reverted to the heart-failure explanation in a nationally broadcast press conference, seemingly dismissing the findings of his ombudsmen. Two prison officials were investigated in connection with Magnitsky’s death, but one was acquitted and the other not charged.
Magnitsky’s death sparked tensions between Russia and the United States, which late last year introduced sanctions against Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
The adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act came after heavy lobbying from Browder and anti-Putin protest movement figures, notably Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who in 2012 met with senior members of Congress to push for the law.
Just weeks after the law was enacted, Russia banned US nationals from adopting Russian children. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the ban had been triggered by the Magnitsky Act, although this was later denied by other officials, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin said late last year that the “politicization” of Magnitsky’s death “is not our fault.”
“Magnitsky was not some human rights activist, he was not fighting for the rights of all,” Putin told journalists at a massive news conference on December 20. “He was a lawyer for Mr. Browder, whom our law enforcement agencies suspect of committing economic crimes in Russia.”