Russian prosecutors seek innocent verdict in Magnitsky's death

Mon Dec 24, 2012 2:52pm EST
 

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors on Monday dropped their accusations against the only person being tried in connection with the prison death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, asking a court to find a former prison official not guilty.

The surprise move in the trial of Dmitry Kratov came in the midst of a row between Moscow and Washington over U.S. legislation meant to punish Russians seen as linked to the death of Magnitsky and other alleged human rights violations.

If the court clears Kratov, a former deputy head of a jail where Magnitsky spent part of a year, it will fuel accusations by Kremlin critics that the Russian government has no intention of seeking justice in a case that has blackened Russia's image.

"We have not determined what happened, and the biggest tragedy here is that ... this may have been our last chance to ask questions" of people who may have been involved, said Dmitry Kharitonov, a lawyer for Magnitsky's widow and family.

U.S. President Barack Obama on December 14 signed a law known as the Magnitsky Act, which directs his administration to bar accused Russian human rights violators from entering the United States and freeze any assets they have in U.S. banks.

Russia is retaliating with a bill expected to be approved by the upper house of parliament this week. It would apply similar measures to Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians and also bar Americans from adopting Russian children.

Magnitsky died in November 2009 after nearly a year in jail - the victim, former colleagues say, of retribution from the same police investigators he had accused of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.

His death caused an international outcry and Kremlin critics said it underscored the dangers risks run by Russians who challenge the authorities. The Kremlin's own human rights council said Magnitsky was probably beaten to death.   Continued...

 
Friends and relatives follow the coffin of Sergei Magnitsky during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky