European court: Russia put lawyer Magnitsky’s life in danger

Angela Charlton and Nataliya Vasilyeva
Associated Press

Paris – A top European court ruled Tuesday that Russia’s failure to provide adequate medical care to jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky could have led to his 2009 death, which sparked U.S. and European sanctions.

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay Magnitsky’s widow and mother 34,000 euros ($38,000) in damages.

The Russian Justice Ministry said it is studying the ruling and whether to appeal.

In this Nov. 30, 2009, file photo a portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an interview with the AP in Moscow. A top European court says Russia's failure to provide adequate medical care to jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky could have led to his 2009 death, which led to U.S. and European sanctions.

Magnitsky, an accountancy expert who worked for an international investment firm, alleged he had uncovered $230 million in tax fraud by Russian officials – and was then jailed, accused of tax evasion himself. He died after a year in pre-trial detention, at age 37, and a Russian court found him guilty of fraud four years later.

The court said Russian authorities’ handling of Magnitsky’s pancreatitis and other medical problems were “manifestly inadequate” and “unreasonably put his life in danger.” The court found Russia’s handling of his detention, the investigation into his death and his posthumous conviction all constituted violations of Magnitsky’s rights.

A Russian presidential commission concluded that Magnitsky had been beaten and denied medical care.

Yet no one has been convicted. Two prison doctors were charged with negligence leading to his death, but one was acquitted by a court in 2013 and the other didn’t face justice because of a statute of limitations.

In a statement, the Russian Justice Ministry noted that the ruling does not oblige Russia to review the fraud verdict in Magnitsky’s case, and that the court did not find that the lawyer’s arrest and subsequent incarceration were unlawful.

Still, Magnitsky’s supporters welcomed the ruling and pledged to use it as a basis for further court actions and seizures of assets.

“Sergei Magnitsky had the courage to denounce corruption at senior levels of the Russian government because he believed in a democratic society that respects human rights. Ultimately that courage cost him his life. Today the system of laws in which he placed such faith has finally given him and his family some measure of justice,” said James A. Goldston of the Open Society Justice Initiative, who represented Magnitsky’s mother in the ECHR case.

Magnitsky worked in Russia for U.S.-born financier Bill Browder and his London-based investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management. Browder has mounted a campaign to bring Magnitsky’s killers to justice and successfully lobbied U.S. lawmakers to impose travel and financial sanctions on top Russian officials. Several other countries have since adopted legislation modeled on the 2012 Magnitsky Act.

Browder said Tuesday’s ruling is important as a way to heap pressure on more nations and the European Union to pass similar laws. The Dutch put forward a proposal last year, but it has gotten bogged down because of objections from some EU member countries.

“So in my mind, we can’t get justice inside of Russia, and we’re only going to get a sort of symbolic monetary judgement at the European Court of Human Rights. We need to get real justice outside and that is going after the money that these people have,” Browder said. “And since their ready to kill for money, they value money. They value money more than human life.”


Danica Kirka in London contributed.