22nd Oct 2016


EU president: Magnitsky case is 'emblematic' for Russia

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has said in a letter to outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that Russia's internatioinal reputation is at stake over the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

The one-page note, dated 18 April and seen by EUobserver, says: "The case of Mr Magnitsky has come to symbolise the state of the rule of law and judiciary in the Russian Federation for Russia's friends and observers abroad. Bringing this emblematic case to credible and thorough conclusion before the end of your term would be of symbolic relevance and send a very important signal for the future of Russia."

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It comes one week before Russian investigators on 24 April are to say if a prison doctor caused Magnitsky's death in custody in 2009 by "negligence."

It also comes before Medvedev steps down in early May, four years after taking up office and promising to end "legal nihilism" in the country.

Magnitsky was jailed, starved of pancreatic medication and beaten to death after he exposed a tax-embezzling mafia involving top people in the interior ministry and the state security service, the FSB.

Nobody in Brussels believes that a prison doctor is responsible for the affair.

A spokesman for foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told EUobserver this week: "Two prison doctors have been held to account ... The case is however much wider." A spokesman for home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom on Friday (20 April) told media: "Magnitsky was beaten to death and tortured ... nothing has been done to resolve it."

The US and the UK have put 60 suspects on their no-fly lists. But Magnitsky's family and friends want them to face an EU-level visa ban and asset freeze.

"To my mind, what's most important here is not only to punish all those responsible for the death of my son, but to ensure that in spite of their impunity at home, these people will be stopped from committing new crimes and abuses," the victim's mother, Natalia Magnitskaya, a 60-year-old retired schoolteacher from Nalchik in south-west Russia, told this website.

"The introduction of sanctions is the only thing that corrupt Russian officials are truly afraid of," she added.

Despite the harsh words by EU institutions and some national parliaments, member states' chancelleries have little appetite for action.

Magnitsky is not on the agenda of a foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on 23 April. Even Poland, which likes to take the lead on EU-Russia relations, says it would consider punitive measures only if someone else proposes them first.

The apathy stands in contrast to US developments, where leading congressmen this week also tabled a human rights bill honouring the whistleblower's name - the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

Meanwhile, two and a half years into their pro-sanctions campaign, people at Magnitsky's former employer, the British-based investment firm Hermitage Capital, have stopped getting death threats.

But Hermitage boss William Browder still needs protection from special services, such as British counter-terrorist unit SO15, at his home in London and when he visits EU capitals.

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