Russia drops Magnitsky prison death probe

Sergei Magnitsky
Image caption Sergei Magnitsky, 37, alleged high-level corruption

Russian detectives are dropping their investigation into the death in prison of the lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.

The Investigative Committee said no crime was committed against him. He was detained in 2008 after revealing alleged an embezzlement scam by interior ministry officials.

His family and the Presidential Human Rights Council say he was badly beaten and denied medical treatment.

Despite his death, he is himself being put on trial for fraud.

The Investigative Committee, the Russian equivalent of the FBI in the US, said Magnitsky had been legally arrested and legally detained and that he had not been tortured.

"Based on the preliminary investigation's results, a decision was taken to end the criminal case due to a lack of evidence of a crime," the Committee said.

Magnitsky, who died at the age of 37 in pre-trial detention after developing pancreatitis, was arrested after testifying that interior ministry officials, with organised criminals, had used the UK-based investment fund Hermitage Capital to embezzle $230m (£150m) by filing false corporate tax returns.

In December, a Moscow court acquitted a prison doctor accused of negligence over the lawyer's death. Dmitry Kratov had argued that he was unable to ensure medical care because of a shortage of staff.

Posthumous trial

Magnitsky himself was accused of helping Hermitage Capital evade $17.4m (£11.7m) in taxes and is now being tried posthumously. The next hearing is due on 22 March.

It is said to be the first posthumous trial in Russian legal history and has sparked criticism from the European Union and the United States.

The executive director of Hermitage Capital, Bill Browder, who employed Magnitsky, is also being tried, in absentia. He has described fraud charges filed against him as an "absurdity".

The case has strained relations between Russia and the US, with Washington passing the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials accused of involvement in his death.

In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

A lawyer for Magnitsky's mother said he intended to appeal in court against the decision to drop the investigation into her son's death.

The decision will cause outrage among Sergei Magnitsky's supporters, who are already disgusted that he is being put on trial, says the BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow.

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