Magnitsky case: Russian authorities ‘brutally silenced’ critics

The Telegraph

Russian authorities have been accused of allowing corrupt officials to “plunder” the state while “brutally silencing” their critics in a damning report by the Council of Europe.

Andreas Gross, a Swiss MP and chair of the Socialist Group of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, made the accusations in an official report into death of the campaigning anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky four years ago.

The findings, in which Mr Gross claims “high level” state officials orchestrated a “cover up”, will inflame the diplomatic row over Russia’s handling of Mr Magnitsky’s death. The scandal has become a national embarrassment, damaging business investment and trade relations.

The US has already imposed visa bans and frozen the assets of 60 Russians linked to the alleged crime. In response, Moscow has barred US citizens from adopting Russian children.

Mr Magnitsky was working for UK hedge fund Hermitage Capital Management when he uncovered an alleged $230m fraud against the Russian taxpayer. After publicly naming the police involved, the same officers arrested him and threw him in jail on tax evasion charges. He was held for a year, dying after developing pancreatitis, being denied medical attention, and being beaten with “rubber truncheons”.
The Parliamentary Assembly was “appalled that Mr Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention and none of the persons responsible for his death have yet been held to account”, the report said.

It urged the Russian authorities “to fully investigate the circumstance and background of Mr Magnitsky’s death and the possible criminal responsibility of the officials involved”, as well as the “assignation of a hygiene specialist to provide medical care” and the “unavailability of CCTV footage” at the prison on the day of his death.

It asked that “all other member states of the Council of Europe”, which includes the UK, “to consider ways and means of encouraging the Russian authorities to hold to account those responsible”. However, it said US-style visa bans and asset freezes should only be “a means of last resort”.

Mr Gross said he had also been told by UK authorities that they had refused to accede to a legal request from Moscow because, in the words of the official, it was so “blatantly politically motivated”.
The report concluded that Mr Magnitsky died “because he refused to give in to the pressure that corrupt mid-level officials had put on him in order to get away with their crimes”. It asked: “Why does the Russian state, and at such a high level, try so hard to cover up this crime?”

Mr Gross said: “The impunity of the killers … is simply unacceptable. The international community must not accept the outcome of this case so far. In the interest of the Russian people themselves and of their state, corrupt officials must not be allowed to plunder state property whilst brutally silencing those standing in their way.”

The report was completed after a six month investigation in which Mr Gross spoke with Russian officials, visiting Moscow, London, Cyprus and Bern as he followed the money trail and the allegations. He requested meetings with the officials alleged to have been involved in the fraud and death but was not given access.

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