Russia's Medvedev fires 20 prison officials after death of jailed lawyer

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky had accused police of corruption.
Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky had accused police of corruption. (Courtesy Of Hermitage Capital - Courtesy Of Hermitage Capital)
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By Nataliya Vasilyeva
Saturday, December 12, 2009

MOSCOW -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev fired 20 senior prison officials, including the capital's prisons chief, after an investigation into the death of a jailed lawyer, officials said Friday.

Sergei Magnitsky, 37, was arrested in November 2008 on tax-evasion charges linked to his work with a British investor barred from Russia as an alleged security risk. His death in a Moscow prison last month caused a public uproar.

Magnitsky's attorneys said he died after being denied medical assistance at the prison. Interior Ministry investigators insist that he died of heart failure.

The Federal Penitentiary Service officials who have been dismissed include the Moscow prisons chief and the chief of Butyrskaya Prison, where Magnitsky spent the last months of his life, according to the text of the presidential decree posted on the Kremlin's Web site.

The Kremlin gave no reason for the move, but Alexander Reimer, director of the Federal Penitentiary Service, told Echo Moskvy radio that the officials were fired as a result of an ongoing probe into Magnitsky's death.

The service's deputy chief had acknowledged violations at the prison where Magnitsky was held but did not elaborate on what those were.

Magnitsky had been helping the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management and its partner HSBC battle an alleged multimillion-dollar fraud and forgery scheme involving Interior Ministry officers. Hermitage chief executive William Browder said the scheme involved illegally taking over Hermitage assets and using them to fraudulently reclaim $230 million in taxes from the state.

Jamison Firestone, Magnitsky's former boss at the law firm Firestone Duncan, said the president fired people who were following orders. "They were not the people who were actively persecuting Sergei, and they are not the people who should bear the greatest blame for his illegal arrest and death," he said.

"Sergei was falsely imprisoned by law enforcement officers who he accused of aiding a theft of $230 million from the Russian treasury," Firestone said.

-- Associated Press

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