MOSCOW, March 19 (RIA Novosti) – Russian investigators said Tuesday they were ending a criminal probe into the 2009 death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow jail because they had determined that no crime had taken place – an assertion the late lawyer’s family swiftly rejected.
A statement by the Investigative Committee said that during the investigation “no objective data about any crime committed against Sergei Magnitsky have been established.”
Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 on charges of tax evasion shortly after he accused Russian officials of a $230 million fraud scheme. He died before the case went to court, but is now being tried posthumously, along with his former boss William Browder, the UK-based head of equity fund Hermitage Capital. Browder is to be tried in absentia both as a co-defendant in the Magnitsky case and on separate charges.
The causes of Magnitsky’s death have been a source of contention. Investigators initially said the 37-year-old lawyer had died of “heart failure,” but in 2011 the Kremlin’s human rights council said there were “grounds to suspect that Magnitsky’s death was the result of a beating” and the denial of medical assistance.
Late last year, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin reverted to the heart-failure explanation in a nationally broadcast press conference, seemingly dismissing the findings of his ombudsmen. Two prison officials were investigated in connection with Magnitsky’s death, but one was acquitted and the other not charged.
In Tuesday's statement, the Investigative Committee said that neither physical violence nor torture had been used against Magnitsky while he was in pre-trial detention.
“According to forensic medical examiners, Magnitsky’s death was caused by acute heart failure and cerebral and pulmonary edema with acute hemorrhaging that developed in connection with ventricular fibrillation,” the statement said.
It reiterated investigators’ earlier findings that the ailments developed as a result of complications from two pre-existing conditions – diabetes-related “dysmetabolic cardiomyopathy” and “chronic active hepatitis.”
Magnitsky’s family dismissed the investigators’ explanation in a statement released by Hermitage Capital.
The authorities’ decision to close the case into Magnitsky’s death “was expected. I don’t believe that it is possible to obtain justice in Russia today because there are people in power interested in concealing it and someone is directing this process,” Magnitsky’s mother, Natalia, was quoted as saying.
Magnitsky’s widow, according to the release, said her husband’s “death was no accident.”
Updated with comments from family and expanded quotes from investigators' statement.