Russian court to rule on Western fund worker

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A Moscow court was due Wednesday to rule on whether to arrest a co-worker of Sergei Magnitsky -- the Russian lawyer of a top Western investment fund who died in jail pending trial.

Russian investigators said they believed that Magnitsky's co-worker Ivan Cherkasov had failed to pay taxes on some two billion rubles ($72.7 million at today's exchange rate) in company profits in 2006.

The Hermitage Capital investment fund and the Russian investigators said in a statement that a Moscow court was due to rule on the interior ministry's request to arrest Cherkasov at a hearing scheduled for 11:00 am (0700 GMT).

Hermitage added that the case against their employee was fabricated -- just as the one against Magnitsky had been -- and designed to intimidate the company into dropping their own court claims against the Russian authorities.

The November 2009 death in Butyrka prison of Magnitsky sparked Western outrage and refocused investor concerns about corruption and the lack of judicial independence in Russia.

Magnitsky claimed to have unravelled a clandestine scheme through which Russian interior ministry officers won control of three subsidiary companies formed by Hermitage -- itself formed in 1996 and once ranked as the best-performing fund in emerging markets.

The fund said Russian police took 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.

Magnitsky's co-worker Cherkasov said in a statement that the Russian interior ministry officers requesting his arrest "were the very official identified by Sergei Magnitsky" in the case of the three missing companies.

The exact whereabouts of Cherkasov are unknown but interior ministry investigators said in a statement that he has been avoiding Russian arrest for three years.

© 2011 AFP

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