-- Jason Bush is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are
his own --
By Jason Bush
MOSCOW, Nov 25 Russia's President Dmitry
Medvedev has ordered a high-level criminal probe into the death
in custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for the hedge fund
Hermitage Capital, following a national and international
outcry. The sad truth is that the Kremlin's intervention is far
too little, far too late. It must also investigate the serious
fraud allegations that Magnitsky raised.
The probe is too late in the sense that it failed to save
Magnitsky's life. By waiting several days, Medvedev has also
provided ample time for any suspects to cover their tracks. The
intervention is also too late in that the Kremlin had several
opportunities to act sooner but ignored grave concerns raised by
In June, the International Bar Association wrote to Medvedev
in person, urging the Russian President to look specifically
into Magnitsky's detention. In August, a 39-page report by the
Council of Europe slammed the "persecution" of Hermitage's
lawyers, as well as the "inhuman and degrading conditions" in
which Magnitsky was held.
The Kremlin's probe is also far too little. Medvedev has
ordered prosecutors to examine the circumstances surrounding
Magnitsky's death, which means that the investigation is likely
to focus on allegations that he was denied medical attention.
However, the affair has serious ramifications that go well
beyond the issue of penal reform. It raises much deeper concerns
about the workings of the entire Russian state. According to
Hermitage and Magnitsky's former colleagues, he was arrested
just one month after testifying against senior Interior Ministry
officials. He had accused them of involvement in a convoluted
scheme to defraud the Russian budget of $230 million.
The existence of this massive fraud has subsequently been
confirmed by Russia's own courts. The names of several suspects
are now openly discussed in Russian newspapers. Yet the Kremlin
maintains a conspicuous silence about the whole affair.
As long as it fails to act against the fraudsters, focusing
instead on the narrow question of prison conditions, the people
who may ultimately be responsible for Magnitsky's ordeal will go
unpunished. And investors will draw alarming conclusions about
the rule of law in Russia.
(Edited by Peter Thal Larsen and David Evans)