Russian probe against dead lawyer extended

November 24, 2011 - 8:50 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian investigators on Thursday declined to close a probe against a Russian lawyer who died in jail of an untreated illness, extending the investigation by another two months despite his family's pleas to end it.

Sergei Magnitsky died of an untreated pancreatitis in November 2009 after spending almost a year in a Moscow jail on tax evasion charges. Investors working in Russia have said the lawyer's death and allegations of torture highlight corruption in the judicial system and presents a litmus test for President Dmitry Medvedev's pledge to cement the rule of law in the country.

Magnitsky's family petitioned to get the probe against him closed. His mother and wife have talked to prosecutors and the Interior Ministry.

But the Investigative Department of the Interior Ministry said Thursday they must still contact his other close relatives to make sure they agree. Under Russian law, once a suspect is dead authorities can close a probe with the agreement of the family.

A spokesman for the department who asked to be unnamed, citing the department's policy, said that they have not contacted all of Magnitsky's close relatives, and "haven't got a definite answer" from his mother and wife.

But Magnitsky's mother, Natalya Magnitskaya, has repeatedly petitioned to get the case closed, and told The Associated Press "there are no other relatives" except for herself, Magnitsky's widow and their two children.

"They haven't asked us about anything," she said of the department's announcement it was looking for more relatives.

The family's lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov said the decision was akin to "spitting on the grave of a dead man and his relatives."

"Magnitsky's family has repeatedly voiced their position about the illegality of the posthumous prosecution by filing formal written complaints to all Russian state bodies," Gorokhov said in an emailed statement.

Two prison doctors have been charged with oversight leading to death, but none of the officials Magnitsky accused of framing him have faced charges.

Magnitsky worked for Hermitage Capital Management, an investment fund owned and run by U.S.-born William Browder, who has since been barred from Russia as a security risk.

Magnitsky was charged with tax evasion linked to his defense of Hermitage Capital and arrested by the same police officials he had accused of a $230 million tax fraud.

His death sparked outrage in Russia and globally. The U.S. administration imposed travel restrictions on 60 Russian officials suspected of involvement in the lawyer's imprisonment and killing. Moscow retaliated by drafting a list of American officials it will bar from entering Russia.

Activists presented their report on Magnitsky's death to Medvedev in July, arguing that police investigators and prison officials are to blame for the lawyer's death. They later criticized police and investigators for putting the blame squarely on the doctors and shielding their colleagues from responsibility.

The Investigative Committee, a body that oversees high-profile investigations in Russia, is still investigating Magnitsky's death, the committee's chief, Alexander Bastrykin, told Russian news agencies on Thursday.

Bastrykin said they are investigating people who could be involved in the lawyer's death — not only the doctors who had been charged.

The investigation "will go on until we are 100 percent sure that we have found all the officials and employees of the institutions that are partly or directly to blame for this death," he said, according to Interfax.