• Hollande (r) in Moscow on Thursday: 'We have not come here to judge' (Photo: elysee.fr)

Magnitsky relatives: Russian diplomat lied to EU parliament

01.03.13 @ 11:04

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The mother and widow of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption activist who died in prison, have accused a Russian diplomat of lying about him to the European Parliament.

The women - Natalia Magnitskaya and Natalia Zharikova - spoke out in a letter on 25 February to the parliament's subcommittee on human rights.

They said Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry's special envoy on human rights, misled MEPs at a hearing in Brussels on 20 February when he told them Magnitsky's relatives want him to be tried posthumously in order to clear his name.

According to a transcript of the hearing, Dolgov said: "The court cannot close the case unless the relatives, or people who represent the interests of the deceased, make it clear that they are not against the closing of the case. The relatives of Mr Magnitsky made it absolutely clear that they are against closing the case without his acquittal."

Russian authorities accused Magnitsky, an accountant, of fraud after he exposed a scam by tax officials to embezzle hundreds of millions of euros from the Russian treasury.

He died in pre-trial detention in 2009.

But prosecutors are now re-opening the fraud case in what his family see as a smear campaign and a form of intimidation to keep them quiet.

"[Dolgov's] statements are hard to characterise other than [as] a lie and hypocrisy," Magnitskaya and Zharikova wrote.

"We suddenly learned from the media that a criminal case was resumed posthumously … The initiative to resume the criminal case belongs to deputy general prosecutor Victor Grin, though he is not a 'close relative'," they noted.

"Our position about the unlawfulness of this proceeding has been stated in over 25 formal complaints," they added.

Dolgov is not the first Russian diplomat to claim the dead man's family want him to be tried.

Russia's EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, in an interview with EUobserver on 28 June last year, also said: "If the immediate relatives of the deceased declare officially that they want the case closed, then it is closed. None of Magnitsky's relatives have said a word about that."

The Magnitsky affair has become a cause celebre in EU-Russia and US-Russia relations.

For their part, 10 French MPs and senators, including senior figures from President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party, in a letter on Thursday (28 February) urged him to raise the issue on his visit to Moscow.

They compared Magnitsky's prison diaries - which detail the abuses that led to his death - to the writings of Soviet-era dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

They said the posthumous trial is a form of "repression" and a "sinister comedy … which must be stopped." They added: "This affair, both tragic and touching, stands as a symbol of human rights violations in Russia."

Hollande did not refer to Magnitsky in public remarks in Moscow on Thursday, however.

He told a press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin: "We have not come here to judge, but to observe and to seek progress [on human rights]."

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