Investigators have dropped an inquiry into the death in jail of Sergei Magnitsky, stating that the whistleblowing lawyer’s agonising death, which became an international scandal, was not the result of malpractice.
“A decision has been taken to end the criminal case because of the absence of a crime,” the state Investigative Committee said. “No pressure was exerted on him, nor was there any physical violence or torture.”
Magnitsky was imprisoned for 11 months without trial in Moscow’s notorious Butyrka jail after exposing an alleged embezzlement scam by interior ministry officials. A Kremlin-ordered human rights council since found that he was beaten up immediately before his death, on 16 Novermber 2009, but there has been little effort to punish the officials responsible. As the case unfolded, Magnitsky’s name has become politicised. President Vladimir Putin stated in December that Magnitsky had died from heart problems and not from torture, and state-run television has run a number of smear programmes against him.
“This was expected,” said Magnitsky’s mother, Natalia Magnitskaya, after today’s decision. “I don’t believe that it is possible to obtain justice in Russia today because there are people in power interested in concealing it.”
The authorities are pursuing a bizarre posthumous case against the lawyer for tax evasion. After Magnitsky’s lawyers failed to show up in court, the judge adjourned the case until this Friday, when it is due to restart. It will be the first time in modern Russian history that a dead person has been put on trial.