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Sergei Magnitsky’s death not a priority for official Russian inquiry

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MOSCOW — Russia’s Interior Ministry has refused to pursue charges against the investigators who oversaw the imprisonment and treatment of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who died in pretrial detention, despite strong recommendations to do so from a presidential commission.

At the same time, the prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that it might reopen a case against Magnitsky on accusations of tax fraud that was closed when he died. A recent court decision ruled that such cases should be fully investigated because they might clear the dead person’s name.

Magnitsky family lawyer Dmitri Kharitonov expressed skepticism that any good would come from reopening the case.

“As a matter of fact, I do not trust our investigative bodies,” he told the Interfax news agency. “Try as I might, I cannot imagine them admitting all of a sudden that they kept an innocent behind the bars.”

Magnitsky was arrested after formally accusing police and tax officials of $230 million in tax fraud. They responded by charging him with stealing the money, and independent inquiries have concluded that he was treated brutally in prison in an effort to force him to implicate executives of Hermitage Capital in the theft. Magnitsky, 37, died in November 2009 with signs of having been beaten, according to the Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, appointed by President Dmitry Medvedev. In addition, he was not given medical treatment for what appeared to be pancreatitis.

The president’s human rights council has joined the international community in pressing for action against the investigators and other officials involved in the case. The United States recently placed dozens of officials connected with the case on a visa blacklist.

The blacklist infuriated Russia, which called it an unfriendly step that would not go unanswered. Moscow said Washington rushed into such action well aware that the case was being thoroughly investigated.

In a letter to lawyers for Hermitage Capital, which the investment firm disclosed Tuesday, Interior Ministry officials said they had found “no wrongdoing” by their investigators. Magnitsky provided legal advice to Hermitage Capital, and the firm has been campaigning to bring those responsible for his death to justice.

“No data has been found indicating any violations of human rights, access to justice or restrictions on lawyers,” the letter said.

Valery Borshchev, who led the inquiry for the human rights council, blamed Oleg Silchenko, the Interior Ministry investigator in charge of the case, for denying Magnitsky prompt medical treatment.

The human rights council also has recommended to Medvedev that prison doctors should report to the Health Ministry, not the prison system, to prevent investigators from dictating when and how prisoners can be treated.

“If Oleg Silchenko is not punished,” Borshchev said in an interview in July, “the arbitrary behavior of investigators will go unchecked.”

He said then that the council would not drop the Magnitsky case and the effort to have physicians report to the Health Ministry. “It’s very important for the penitentiary system and the country,” he said.

Earlier, the council accused the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service of fabricating the case against Magnitsky.

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