Russia charges two doctors over Magnitsky's prison death
Russia has charged two doctors at a Moscow prison with causing the 2009 death in pre-trial detention of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a tragedy that ignited global outrage, investigators said Friday.
The Investigative Committee said it had "established a direct link between Magnitsky's death and actions of the doctors in the prison" and had charged prison doctors Larisa Litvinova and Dmitry Kratov.
Litvinova is charged with causing death by negligence and if convicted could face up to three years in prison. Kratov, who holds the senior post of deputy prison director, is charged with carelessness and faces up to five years in jail.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, spent nearly a year in pre-trial detention after his arrest in 2008.
He died of untreated heart conditions and pancreatitis in an isolation cell despite filing dozens of complaints demanding medical treatment. Litvinova and Kratov are the first people to be charged over his death.
Prior to his detention Magnitsky was working at what was once Russia's largest Western investment fund and claimed to have uncovered a scheme used by police officials to reclaim about $235 million in taxes paid by his employer Hermitage Capital.
But instead officials charged Magnitsky with fraud and put him in Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina jail, later transferring him to the most infamous prison in the city, Butyrka. He was moved back to Matrosskaya Tishina days before his death.
A report last month by President Dmitry Medvedev's human rights council said he may have been beaten and blamed much more senior officials -- including elite interior ministry investigators -- as well as the prison doctors.
Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the council, said the charges indicate "movement in the right direction," but added that the interior ministry officers should also be investigated, Interfax reported.
Hermitage Capital chief William Browder has published his own findings in the case of Magnitsky's death and has alleged that corrupt tax reclamation schemes extended far beyond regular officials up to federal ministers.
The firm Friday expressed "deep concern" over the nature of the charges, saying this had not been negligence but a "premeditated crime".
"They carried out what was a premeditated crime. It is out of the question that their actions qualify as negligence," Hermitage Capital said in a statement.
More importantly, those who planned the crime have been let off the hook, it added.
Human rights activist Valery Borshchev of Moscow Helsinki Group said charging two doctors is not enough. "That shows there is no desire to examine the real causes of Magnitsky's death," he told Interfax.
"But I believe Litvinova and Kratov will not keep quiet. I hope they tell us how they were pressured," he added.
The Kremlin rights council in its report singled out top interior ministry investigator Oleg Silchenko and the head of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison Ivan Prokopenko as being at fault for neglect over his death.
However neither are so far subject to any legal proceedings.
The council also scathingly criticised the fact that the same investigators the lawyer had accused of fraud charged Magnitsky with the same crimes and led the case against him.
The United States and other Western countries also expressed alarm over the tragedy and Washington has now imposed a visa blacklist against Russian officials whom it believes were involved.
In a sign of the diplomatic damage caused by the controversy, reports said this week that Russia has already hit back with its own blacklist for US officials deemed to have violated the rights of Russians in separate cases.
Magnitsky's case has come to symbolise both the perils facing Western investors in Russia and the seeming contrast between lawyer-trained Medvedev's calls to liberalise the justice system with the prison system's darker side.
Last year the interior ministry outraged activists by giving "Best Investigator" award to Pavel Karpov, the man accused by Magnitsky of being behind the embezzlement scam and Silchenko.
© 2011 AFP