Russian Prosecutor Seeks Acquittal in Jail Death

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MOSCOW -- A prosecutor unexpectedly pressed Monday for the acquittal of the only official to be tried in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer whose death in prison three years ago generated an international furor over Russian human rights abuses.

The prosecutor's turnabout, made in his closing argument, came as the Russian government has been moving aggressively to retaliate against the United States for adopting a law named for Mr. Magnitsky that will deny travel and investment access to Russian citizens accused of violating human rights.

Mr. Magnitsky was representing a London investment firm, Hermitage Capital, when he was arrested in November 2008 as he tried to expose a huge government tax fraud. He died, still in detention, nearly a year later. His supporters -- including the firm's founder, William F. Browder, once among the most prominent foreign investors in Russia and a sharp critic of the Russian government -- blamed the authorities for his death, saying he was denied proper medical care.

An investigation yielded charges against two people, both doctors: Larisa Litvinova, who oversaw Mr. Magnitsky's treatment during his last weeks, and Dmitri Kratov, formerly the chief medical of the prison where he was held for the last four months of his life, Butyrskaya. This year, prosecutors dropped a charge of professional negligence against Dr. Litvinova, saying the statute of limitations had run out.

On Monday, the prosecutor, Konstantin Bokov, urged the court to acquit Dr. Kratov. "There is no cause-and-effect relationship between Kratov's actions and Magnitsky's death," Mr. Bokov said, according to Russian news services. "I request his acquittal." A verdict is expected by the end of the week.

A lawyer for Mr. Magnitsky's family, however, told the court that Dr. Kratov signed prison records declaring Mr. Magnitsky fit to remain imprisoned despite his repeated complaints about needing medical care, and that Dr. Kratov knew that Mr. Magnitsky was suffering from acute pancreatitis and gallstones in the days before his death.

The lawyer, Nikolay Gorokhov, blamed President Vladmir V. Putin for the prosecution's move, noting that Mr. Putin at his annual news conference last week angrily brushed off a question about why Russian officials had not thoroughly investigated Mr. Magnitsky's death. Mr. Gorokhov accused the authorities of failing to carry out a thorough investigation or a fair trial, and said important evidence and witnesses were suppressed.

After President Obama signed the Magnitsky law this month, Russian officials proposed blocking American adoptions of Russian orphans and imposing sanctions on American judges and others who fail to halt or punish abuse of Russian adoptees.

Mr. Putin was pressed about the adoption ban eight times at his news conference. He would not say if he would sign the ban, but he said that Russia had to retaliate and that it was hypocritical of the United States, accused of abuses around the world, to criticize Russia on human rights.

"I don't know the details, but I know anyway that Mr. Magnitsky died not from torture -- nobody tortured him -- but from a heart attack," Mr. Putin said, adding that the only question was if he was given help in time.

But he quickly moved on to attacking the United States. "Do you think people don't die in American prisons?" he asked. "Come on. And so what? Shall we play it up?"

Mr. Putin also pointed a finger at Mr. Browder, of Hermitage Capital, who was barred from Russia without warning in 2005, for making a mission of seeking justice in Mr. Magnitsky's case.

"Besides, this Mr. Magnitsky, as is known, was not some human rights champion; he did not struggle for human rights," Mr. Putin said. "He was the lawyer of Mr. Browder, who is suspected by our law enforcement of committing economic crimes."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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