Russian whistle-blower beaten to death in jail: council
Moscow prison guards used rubber batons to beat to death a Western investment fund lawyer who alleged mass embezzlement by Russian officials, a Kremlin rights panel said on Monday.
The case of Sergei Magnitsky -- a whistle-blowing attorney who was jailed shortly after making his accusations -- has been highlighted by the West as one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in Russia in recent years.
The 37-year-old's death in 2009 also raised alarm over the Russian justice system's impartiality and the ability of the police to manipulate the courts.
Magnitsky's Hermitage Capital firm campaigned to prove that the lawyer was killed for accusing top interior ministry officials of embezzling $230 million by obtaining false tax returns on payments made by the fund.
Hermitage Capital published a 75-page report on Monday featuring what it said was a photocopy of an internal Moscow prison document authorising the use of handcuffs and batons against Magnitsky the day he died.
"A rubber baton was used against the suspect," the standard form prison document said. It then had Magnitsky's name written down in pen in the space provided for the inmate's identification and was dated November 16, 2009.
Magnitsky died later that evening.
In a separate news conference, members of a Kremlin rights panel for the first time stated that physical harm rather than negligence appeared to have been the direct cause of his death, based on the same documents.
The panel, which was mandated by President Dmitry Medvedev to investigate the death, said the documents came from Magnitsky's case material that authorities had tried to cover up for two years.
"I do not think that (prison officials) wanted to kill him, but I do think that they beat him in order to force him to admit guilt" to false charges that led to Magnitsky's arrest, said panel member Valery Borshchyov.
"But either way, he died as a result of the beating, that is my opinion," said the rights official. "They tried to keep this hushed up for two years."
Borshchyov said eight people were present at the time of Magnitsky's death.
Hermitage Capital also published a separate document showing an investigator urging his superiors three days after the incident to open an official murder investigation.
That request was denied and subsequent state reports concluded that Magnitsky had died from complications of medical ailments he had prior to being jailed.
Investigators have charged two prison doctors with neglect. But Hermitage Capital -- founded by the US-born investor William Browder and now based in London -- said the state was only trying to cover up its crimes.
"It is really shocking. You have the situation where Sergei Magnitsky was beaten by eight guards at 8:00 pm and he was dead at 9:00 pm," Browder said in a telephone interview from London.
The fund chief said he would present the findings to the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday in an attempt to force European capitals to introduce a blanket ban on entry to the dozens of Russian officials involved in the case.
"We are not hopeful that there is going to be any justice in this case in Russia," said Browder.
"The main purpose of this report is for foreign governments and parliaments to see what is really going on in this case as they consider imposing visa sanctions and asset freezes."
The United States has already placed a slate of mid-ranking officials involved in the case on a visa blacklist and similar measures are now being considered in Europe.
© 2011 AFP