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Hermitage claims against Russian official prompt Swiss probe

© RIA Novosti . Andrey Stenin / Go to the photo bankMagnitsky died aged 37 in a Moscow
Magnitsky died aged 37 in a Moscow - Sputnik International
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Switzerland has opened a money-laundering probe against a former Russian tax official at the request of British investment company Hermitage Capital Management Ltd., the Barron's weekly said on Thursday.

Switzerland has opened a money-laundering probe against a former Russian tax official at the request of British investment company Hermitage Capital Management Ltd., the Barron's weekly said on Thursday.

Prosecutors are investigating suspicious transactions in a number of Credit Suisse accounts opened on behalf of the husband of former tax official Olga Stepanova. Stepanova approved the refund in 2007 of $230 million to scammers impersonating Hermitage Capital.

The Russian Interior Ministry has blamed the theft on Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who first reported the theft. Magnitsky died in a Moscow pre-trial detention facility in 2009 after being refused medical treatment for pancreatitis.

In its report, Barron's claims that Stepanova's husband received over $15 million since 2007 that went into shell corporations and villas in Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands and Dubai. Despite living in a mansion in an exclusive Moscow suburb, the Stepanovs have declared a combined annual average income of just $50,000 over the past decade.

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland told the paper it had "officially launched a criminal investigation in respect of suspected money laundering" on March 7.

Hermitage founder William Browder, who has been calling for international sanctions against officials he blames for the death of Magnitsky, filed the complaint using copies of suspicious Credit Suisse records handed to him by a businessman formerly involved in the money-laundering operation.

Both the Swiss Attorney General and Credit Suisse have declined to give details about whom they are investigating.

Stepanova resigned in January after a Federal Tax service audit revealed that she had approved another $100 million in dubious refunds. The Interior Ministry detained and questioned the auditor, not Stepanova, over the findings and she has since secured a job at a Defense Ministry department in charge of supplies for the police and military.

MOSCOW, April 21 (RIA Novosti)

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