Russian prosecutors seek innocent verdict in Magnitsky's death

MOSCOW Mon Dec 24, 2012 2:51pm EST

Friends and relatives follow the coffin of Sergei Magnitsky during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky

Friends and relatives follow the coffin of Sergei Magnitsky during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mikhail Voskresensky

Related Topics

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors on Monday dropped their accusations against the only person being tried in connection with the prison death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, asking a court to find a former prison official not guilty.

The surprise move in the trial of Dmitry Kratov came in the midst of a row between Moscow and Washington over U.S. legislation meant to punish Russians seen as linked to the death of Magnitsky and other alleged human rights violations.

If the court clears Kratov, a former deputy head of a jail where Magnitsky spent part of a year, it will fuel accusations by Kremlin critics that the Russian government has no intention of seeking justice in a case that has blackened Russia's image.

"We have not determined what happened, and the biggest tragedy here is that ... this may have been our last chance to ask questions" of people who may have been involved, said Dmitry Kharitonov, a lawyer for Magnitsky's widow and family.

U.S. President Barack Obama on December 14 signed a law known as the Magnitsky Act, which directs his administration to bar accused Russian human rights violators from entering the United States and freeze any assets they have in U.S. banks.

Russia is retaliating with a bill expected to be approved by the upper house of parliament this week. It would apply similar measures to Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians and also bar Americans from adopting Russian children.

Magnitsky died in November 2009 after nearly a year in jail - the victim, former colleagues say, of retribution from the same police investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.

His death caused an international outcry and Kremlin critics said it underscored the dangers risks run by Russians who challenge the authorities. The Kremlin's own human rights council said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.

ROLE REVERSAL

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president at the time, fired several senior prison officials and ordered a investigation, but Kratov, charged with negligence, is the only person now on trial or facing trial in connection with his death.

State prosecutor Konstantin Bokov told the court there was no direct link between the actions of Kratov - who he said followed the rules of his job and had never received a health complaint from Magnitsky - and the lawyer's death.

The court is expected to rule on Friday on Kratov's guilt or innocence.

Kharitonov said a guilty verdict was still possible but unlikely, and he accused the prosecutors of avoiding testimony by several witnesses by saying last week that there was enough evidence for a guilty verdict and speeding the trial to an end.

"The prosecutors essentially defended Kratov, rather than prosecuting him," he said in an interview on cable TV and internet channel Dozhd.

He said he believed Russian prosecutors want Kratov cleared to avoid any suggestion they themselves are culpable in the death of Magnitsky, which occurred after prosecutors backed efforts to keep him in jail on tax evasion charges.

Kharitonov said the prosecutors also wanted to ensure they were on the right side in the conflict over the new U.S. law.

"The easiest thing for the prosecutor's office to do is to say that nobody is guilty - and if nobody is guilty, then why is the Magnitsky Act needed?" the lawyer said.

He said Magnitsky's family would demand that the state continue investigating his death.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
leesik wrote:
Is anyone really surprised? The lengths that this criminal regime go to make the word “absurd” seems lacking…..

Dec 24, 2012 4:02pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Russian prosecutors on Monday dropped their accusations against the only person being tried in connection with the prison death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.”
___________________________________________________________

Once again we have a glaring example of why anyone who lives in the USA should go down on his/her knees, fasting, and praying they are never so unfortunate as to be forced to live in a place called Russia.

For those poor,deluded souls who incessantly whine and complain about governmental corruption in America, just try speaking out and/or criticizing the Russian government as a Russian citizen on Russian soil. And then be prepared to enter a living Hell as the result.

Russian authorities are notorious, in particular, for coming down hard and viciously against anyone who whistle blows and/or charges the authorities with corruption of any kind.

The list of men and women who challenged the governmental authorities in Russia and then paid with their lives and/or long prison terms is too well known to require comment.

When anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky accused police investigators of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds, he effectively signed his own death warrant.

And now, Dmitry Kharitonov, a lawyer for Magnitsky’s widow and family, is also effectively placing himself in the utmost danger just by being involved in this case.

As a person who was personally involved in Whistle-blowing, involving extremely serious corruption committed by high ranking officials in a State Agency in the US, I fully expected major retaliation, demotion, character assassination attempts, as well as attempts to “set me up” with charges of major insubordination to justify my firing.

But I cannot say I ever felt in any serious danger that a “hit” would be made on my life. Though that can happen in America, and does happen, such occurrences are extremely rare, especially on American soil.

But in Russia, when one challenges the authorities, you know, from the get-go, that you should simultaneously be writing your “Last Will and Testament”, because you are virtually taking your life in your hands.

In Russia, if you are not “rubbed out”, the standard fall back position of the Russian authorities is to set a person up with charges of financial improprieties such as alleged tax evasion which is one of the favorite methods used by Russian authorities, for getting revenge on individuals the Russian authorities wish to first discredit and then destroy.

In America if one is a major Whistle-blower, you will very likely get yourself fired, but if the situation is extremely newsworthy, it is also likely you just might find yourself with a lucrative book contract with a major publishing house, and later, even a Hollywood movie contract with a major film Studio.

But in Russia and similar countries, when one goes up against the powers that be and “rocks the boat”, expect to find yourself, dead.

Dec 24, 2012 8:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.