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Libel case puts fraud in the public forum


The London court case brought by Pavel Karpov is an interesting development, because if the case comes in front of a judge it would be likely to throw up details that officials fingered for their alleged involvement in the fraud would perhaps prefer to keep quiet.

In Russia, the approach from the authorities over the Magnitsky case has been twofold. Firstly, there has been no real investigation into the claims put forward by Bill Browder and Hermitage Capital about the massive fraud that was perpetrated. The second approach has been to turn the tables and suggest that Mr Magnitksy and Mr Browder are the real criminals.

Just this week Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking in Davos, said that Hermitage's claims were the "politicised fiction of certain people". Mr Magnitsky, he said, was "not a truth seeker" but "a corporate lawyer or an accountant who defended the interests of the people who hired him."

That much may be true; there is no doubt that the primary concern of Hermitage and Mr Magnitsky when they were investigating the fraud was to claw back companies they felt had been taken from them unfairly, rather than perform an altruistic service to society.

But this does not make the fraud they uncovered any less shocking, and the reluctance of Russian authorities to launch a proper investigation into both the fraud and the death of Mr Magnitsky has had an extremely harmful effect on the country's international image and reputation.

The problem now is that with the Magnitsky case referenced by international leaders and even used as the basis for a US law, it has become a matter of national pride. Even if the attempt at a cover up does not go to the heart of government, the way President Vladimir Putin thinks means that ordering any kind of real investigation now would look like "weakness" or "backing down" in the face of international pressure.

It is somewhat ironic that a court case brought by one of those accused of being involved in the fraud could be the forum where we see the most public discussion of the case.