Magnitsky probe hurt by interest conflict: Kremlin

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A Kremlin rights body on Tuesday said Russia's case against a Western fund attorney who died in pre-trial detention was undermined by the fact that it was led by the very people he accused of fraud.

Kremlin human rights commission member Mara Polyakova said an interim report presented Tuesday to President Dmitry Medvedev revealed many inconsistencies about how and why lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009.

"It is now apparent that his death is the fault of both the medical workers and the workers of the pre-trial detention centres in which he stayed," Interfax quoted Polyakova as saying.

"We can resolutely say that the probe was being conducted by an improperly composed investigative team," she added.

The prosecutors and interior ministry officials leading the investigation into Magnitsky were the very people he had accused of a complicated swindle through which they received more than $200 million (140 million euros) in returns on taxes.

Russia's Investigative Committee released a study on Monday acknowledging for the first time that the ailing 37-year-old had died from medical neglect.

The investigators' findings suggested that prison officials bore the brunt of the blame for Magnitsky's death.

His case has come to symbolise both the perils facing Western businesses in Russia and the seeming gap between Medvedev's more liberal rhetoric and his actual reform accomplishments.

Medvedev's immediate reaction to Tuesday's finding was not reported by the Russian media. The Vedomosti business daily said on its website that the press was asked to leave the room when the sensitive report was being read to the president.

But rights officials said Medvedev had issued two new instructions -- one to the general prosecutor's office and other to the Investigative Committee -- upon hearing the reports.

"Unfortunately, we do not know what they say," the Kremlin rights council's chief Mikhail Fedotov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Members of the rights groups said the names of the suspected prison officials would be released on Wednesday, identifying one implicated prison doctor as Alexandra Gauss.

The report concluded with findings on Magnitsky's treatment at the Butyrka and Matrosskaya Tishina prisons at which he was held for the 11 months leading to his death.

Co-author Vladimir Borshchyov saying he believed the lawyer may have been beaten before his death.

"Our version says that Magnitsky died of a beating," the human rights campaigner and former parliament member told AFP.

"He died in a cell, in a box, without medical assistance. He stayed in that box for an hour surrounded by eight guards," he added.

"The doctors came ... and established that he had died 15-20 minutes before their arrival."

© 2011 AFP

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