07/07/2011, 00.00
RUSSIA
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Lawyer Magnitsky’s death in custody a “crime”

by Nina Achmatova
President Medvedev recognizes the death of the young lawyer as a crime: in 2009 he accused senior officials in the Ministry of Interior of fraud. Turning point in the investigation, but the suspicion is that the Kremlin wants a 'clean conscience' before the presidential 2012.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was caused by the "criminal behavior" of prosecutors and jailers. Confirming what human rights defenders have long argued, President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday commented on the results of an investigation ordered by the Russian investigative committee in the case of the young lawyer who died three years ago in prison. Together with the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the case has become one of the most eloquent symbols of the inability or disinterest of the Russian authorities to ensure justice in the country, a source of constant criticism for Moscow from the international community .

Magnitsky died in 2009, while he was in custody awaiting trial. He accused some employees of the Ministry of Interior of having used subsidiary companies of the Hermitage Capital fund - for which he worked - to set up a mega fraud designed to receive illegal tax refunds of hundreds of millions of Euros. The complaint backfired: Magnitsky was accused of having created the scheme and was imprisoned, but always his colleagues and defenders of human rights argue that the case was orchestrated by powerful public officials involved in the fraud. In late May, the Attorney General's investigation had established the absence of guilty in the lawyers death. A conclusion that has since been overturned by the Investigative Committee: July 4 last, spokesman Vladimir Markin said that the lawyer, who suffered from pancreatitis, died in prison following a heart attack for not having received sufficient medical care.

"The Magnitsky incident is very sad because, judging by everything, it seems that the cause of his death is attributable to a real crime," said the head of the Kremlin yesterday, during a meeting with the Presidential Council for human and civil rights in Nalchik, North Caucasus.

For the defence lawyers and human rights activists, prosecutor Oleg Silcenko, the is chiefly responsible for the death because he had forbidden a medical examination at the detainee with serious kidney problems. Silcenko acted out of political interests, but so far no charges hang over his head.

Magnitsky's lawyer, Yelena Oreshnikova, described the investigation as "positive" in that at least the cause of death has been established. For his part, Markin has promised that those responsible for the facts – whose identity are so far only rumours - will be pursued in the near future. The suspicion, however, is that the unprecedented zeal of investigators and authorities simply hides the Kremlin's desire to appear engaged in the solution of sensitive cases, which still tarnish its image with foreign partners. And this in five months from the parliamentary and eight months from presidential elections.

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