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New Evidence Implicates Russian Officials in Death of Sergei Magnitsky

11:30 AM, Dec 12, 2011 • By JULIA PETTENGILL
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Following an appeal by the Human Rights Council made one week after Magnitsky’s death, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation by the general prosecutor’s office and the ministry of justice. Thus far, the only charges brought forward in connection with the case have been of two doctors in Butyrka State Prison—the facility where Magnitsky was held prior to his transfer to Matrosskaya Tishina—for medical neglect. Yet the grounds for these charges, issued by the Russian State Investigative Committee, were false: accusing the doctors of failing to diagnose Magnitsky with diabetes and hepatitis, despite the fact that there is no evidence he suffered from either condition. While Medvedev has publicly acknowledged that “to all appearance, indeed, some crimes were committed,” the interior ministry rejected the findings of the independent investigations into the death.

As for the theft that precipitated Magnitsky’s detention and death, the interior ministry officials accused of perpetrating the theft of the $230 million were exonerated by general prosecutor Yuriy Chaika and by the interior ministry on the specious grounds that the officials who rebated the ministry were “tricked.” Subsequent criminal complaints filed by Magnitsky’s former employers on the matter have been ignored, and three officers involved in both Magnitsky’s detention and the crooked tax rebate—Oleg Silchenko, Pavel Karpov, and Artem Kuznetsov—were actually promoted.  Other officials implicated in Magnitsky’s mistreatment in custody were awarded state honors.

The fact that Magnitsky’s persecutors and those complicit in his death were confident enough to record the mistreatment and neglect which led to his death speaks to the culture of impunity deep within the system. To add insult to injury, almost a year after his death, the prosecutor’s office reopened the criminal case accusing Magnitsky of the $230 million tax fraud, and the interior ministry announced that his guilt is “fully proven.” 

Luckily, those who worked with Sergei Magnitsky, and others who have been galvanized by his story, have refused to let matters lie. The public release of this new tranche of evidence will add momentum for the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, a bill currently in the committee stage in the Senate. The bill would impose sanctions and visa bans on the individuals named as complicit in the imprisonment and death of Magnitsky. A recent amendment added a provision extending the ban to all credibly suspected human rights abusers. This has already incited a nervous State Department to quietly impose its own visa bans against the 60 people named by bill cosponsor Senator Benjamin Cardin on the so-called “Magnitsky List.” Those people were also banned, even more quietly, by the UK earlier this year. So progress is being made, but much more could be done, particularly in Europe, to make life difficult for these individuals .

Ordinary Russians have responded to the story of Magnitsky because they see themselves in him. The international community should respond to the most recent revelations by holding the perpetrators to account. 

Julia Pettengill is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a think tank based in London. 

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