Vladimir Putin’s official launch of his presidential campaign late last month coincided with the publication of a damning new dossier of evidence relating to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the whistleblower attorney who has become a martyr to anti-corruption efforts in Russia.
The new report includes documents uncovered by a team of attorneys and forensic experts working for Magnitsky’s former colleagues at the hedge fund Hermitage Capital. The findings implicate Russian officials at various levels in the imprisonment and medical neglect that led to Magnitsky’s death. The dossier also includes evidence that the beating Magnitsky sustained with rubber batons hours before his death was officially sanctioned by prison authorities. The latest revelations add excruciating detail to the unfolding tale of the 37-year-old lawyer’s demise two years ago.
Magnitsky was a well-respected attorney in the Moscow-based law firm Firestone Duncan, and a believer in the rule of law. Employed to represent Hermitage Capital, he uncovered an elaborate ruse whereby the official documents of investment companies owned by Hermitage were stolen, fraudulently re-registered, and used to apply for a tax refund of $230 million—the largest in Russian history—which was granted in only one day and paid to the re-registered entities.
Magnitsky accused interior ministry officials Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov and Major Pavel Karpov, among others, of orchestrating the theft and lodged criminal complaints based on the evidence he had amassed. The state responded by ordering Kuznetsov—one of the officials accused of orchestrating the fraud—to take charge of the investigation of the tax fraud. Despite warnings from friends and family, Magnitsky refused to recant his testimony and all offers to flee the country, believing that justice would eventually be done.
Instead, Magnitsky was arrested by Kuznetsov, pressured into confessing to the theft of the $230 million from the state, and imprisoned without trial in November 2008. He endured a year of incarceration in unacceptable conditions, developing gall stones, pancreatitis, and acalculous cholecystitis. Despite lodging 20 written petitions for medical attention, Magnitsky was consistently left untreated and his ailments, all of which were easily treatable, developed into acute and excruciatingly painful conditions. Magnitsky was found dead on the floor of an isolated cell in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison on November 16, 2009.
The dossier features the testimony of civilian doctors who claim they arrived at Matrosskaya Tishina at 8 p.m. that evening, but were not permitted to enter his cell for one hour and eighteen minutes, at which point Magnitsky was already dead. The report also includes the release of graphic post-mortem photographs of lacerations and bruises on Magnitsky’s body. According to the recently uncovered internal report reproduced in the new tranche of evidence, the use of rubber batons was sanctioned by Fikhret Tagiev, the head of Matrosskaya Tishina. Only eight days after the death, Tagiev also closed the internal inquiry into the death. Petitions and inquiries into the cause of Magnitsky’s death were ignored and obfuscated across all levels of the Russian government, including in the courts system, the interior ministry, the penitentiary service, and the general prosecutor’s office.
The evidence led the independent Moscow Public Oversight Commission to conclude in December 2009 that Magnitsky died as a result of medical neglect and torturous conditions. In 2011, the Russian president’s Human Rights Council confirmed this finding and further concluded that the prosecution of Magnitsky for corruption was illegal in the first instance, and that the beating he suffered contributed to his death.