Russia orders arrest of Western investment fund worker

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A Moscow court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of a Russian executive at a top Western investment fund, now living in London, after his colleague Sergei Magnitsky died in jail awaiting trial.

The Tverskoy district court approved a request from a police investigator for an arrest warrant for Ivan Cherkasov, a partner in the Hermitage Capital investment fund, the fund's founder, William Browder told AFP.

Russian investigators have said they believed that Cherkasov had failed to pay taxes on some two billion rubles ($73.3 million at Wednesday's exchange rate) in company profits in 2006 in a complex legal case.

Magnitsky was being investigated in the same tax evasion case and spent a year in Moscow's notoriously squalid Butyrka prison before dying aged just 37 in November 2009 from untreated illnesses.

His death exposed the dire conditions in which people are held in pre-trial detention without ever being convicted of a crime and President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to cut the numbers held behind bars over white-collar crimes.

Investigators launched a criminal probe into negligence and failure to offer medical treatment leading to Magnitsky's death but the probe is still ongoing and no one has been charged.

The warrant arrest for Cherkasov means that if he returns to Russia, he would meet the same fate as Magnitsky, Browder said, speaking in London, where he was worked since his Russian visa was revoked in 2006.

"What it means that if he goes back to Russia, he will be arrested and put in the same place as Sergei Magnitsky who was tortured to death in custody," he said.

Browder said that the arrest warrant issued for Cherkasov showed that the judicial system had not changed its approach to the case.

"It just goes to show that Medvedev, for all his words about cleaning up corruption, nothing has changed. Corruption permeates the judicial system at every level."

Cherkasov said he would appeal the ruling, calling the investigator's request for an arrest warrant "clearly illegal," in a statement released by Hermitage Capital.

"We will appeal against all the illegal decisions and use all the legal and political means to restore legality and justice," Cherkasov was quoted as saying in the statement sent to AFP.

Magnitsky claimed to have unravelled a clandestine scheme through which Russian interior ministry officers won control of three subsidiary companies formed by Hermitage.

The fund said Russian police took control of its three firms in 2007 and then used them to receive a refund of some 5.4 billion rubles (about $190 million) in taxes paid by company.

But security officials arrested Magnitsky instead of the Russian officers and accused him of the very violations he claimed to have uncovered.

Hermitage Capital has campaigned to give its side of the case in a series of video documentaries uploaded to YouTube, and last month Switzerland opened a money laundering probe at its request.

Cherkasov, a Russian citizen, has been working with Browder in London since 2006.

© 2011 AFP

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