Russia orders new probe on anniversary of lawyer's death

16th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday ordered a new forensic probe into the death in jail one year ago of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which his supporters contend was caused by dire conditions at a notorious prison.

Magnitsky, who had been charged with tax evasion in a highly-complex financial case, died on November 16, 2009 after a year in pre-trial detention without ever being convicted of a crime.

Activists have highlighted the case as one of the most flagrant violations of rights in Russia in recent years and have claimed Magnitsky was left to die by officials whose wrongdoings he dared to expose.

The investigative committee of prosecutors said in a statement that experts had carried out three separate forensic examinations which found Magnitsky had died of "severe heart deficiency caused by dilated cardiomyopathy."

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and can no longer pump blood properly.

"However there were a number of contradictions in the conclusions of the experts and specialists," the investigators said in a statement.

"As a result, the investigation has ordered an additional forensic examination."

The statement said that the examination was being conducted by the federal forensic examination agency which works under the aegis of the health ministry.

Magnitsky was held in Moscow's notorious Butyrka jail which housed political rebels in Tsarist times and top dissidents in the Soviet Union.

According to his lawyers, he fell ill with gallstones, acute calculous cholecystitis and acute pancreatitis and was denied treatment until the last minute.

Leading Russian prisons activist Valery Borchev, who headed a commission set up by rights groups to look into Magnitsky's death, said the prison authorities had acted in cahoots with investigators over his conditions.

In just three months, Magnitsky changed his cell eight times, "each time to one worse than before", he told reporters.

However interior ministry officials who supervised his case have denied any wrongdoing and Monday insisted that Magnitsky was implicated in a complex alleged embezzlement scam involving investment fund Hermitage Capital Management.

In a show of defiance to the criticism, the interior ministry last week gave awards to two top officials who had handled the case and another official who Magnitsky had accused of being behind the embezzlement scam.

The interior ministry's investigative committee gave its "Best Investigator" award to Pavel Karpov, who Magnitsky said had organised the scam and then pinned the blame on him.

It gave a similar honour to Oleg Silchenko, who led the criminal case against the lawyer, and an "Honoured Interior Ministry Employee" award to Natalya Vinogradova, also involved in the investigation.

The statement by the investigative committee of prosecutors also said claims of an abuse of office by Karpov and another official, Artyom Kuznetsov, in the Magntisky case were being investigated.

But another probe was in progress over claims by Karpov he was slandered in connection with the case, it said.

Magnitsky's supporters were to mark the first anniversary of his death Tuesday by showing a slick new hour-long documentary "Justice for Sergei" in parliaments in Europe, Canada and the United States.

On the eve of the anniversary, global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International posthumously also gave Magnitsky one of its Integrity Awards for fighting corruption.

His "commitment to integrity ultimately cost him his life", it said.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who has pledged to reduce the numbers of suspects in pre-trial detention for white collar crimes, ordered an investigation just one week after Magnitsky died. But no-one has ever been charged over the death.

© 2010 AFP

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