Sunday

15th Sep 2019

Investigation

EU: Magnitsky acquittal will harm Russia's reputation

  • Putin (r) meets EU leaders last month. His remarks on TV saw the courts do a u-turn (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Russia's acquittal of the only man charged over the death of Sergei Magnitsky will harm its international reputation, the EU has said.

Magnitsky, an accountant who in 2007 exposed the fact that Russian officials and the mafia were stealing hundreds of millions of euros of tax money, later died in jail after being refused medical treatment for pancreatitis and after being beaten by his guards.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

His case became a cause celebre when the US last year passed a law in his name that will see up to 60 Russian officials banned from getting American visas.

But in what amounts to an extraordinary u-turn for the Russian legal system, a Moscow judge on 28 December said there is no evidence that Dmitry Kratov - the former medical chief at the Butyrka jail, where Magnitsky died - helped caused his death by negligence.

A few days earlier the prosecutor himself called for the acquittal despite previously building a case against Kratov.

The sudden change came after Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed on TV that Magnitsky died of natural causes.

For Magnitsky's former employer, the UK-based investment fund, Hermitage Capital, the developments show that his killers enjoy protection at the highest level of the Russian state.

"Russia normally has a 99 percent conviction rate. In this case, there was overwhelming evidence of Kratov's involvement and his acquittal goes against any logic or concept of justice," the company said last month.

For the EU foreign service, the trial by TV also shows that Russia is not serious about holding anybody to account.

"If the acquittal of Mr Kratov is to be seen as the final decision signifying the end of the investigation, this would be a negative and disappointing signal to all those who see a need for strengthened rule of law in Russia. It would raise questions about selective justice and have a negative impact on Russia's image internationally," the European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement to EUobserver on 2 January.

It noted that it is "looking into how to further make clear our expectations that the investigation of this case be taken forward properly."

It is not planning to table US-type EU-level sanctions against Magnitsky's suspected killers.

But in a sign of escalating bad feeling, the EEAS invited individual EU countries to take action. "Any decision on a matter like this would need to be taken by EU member states party to the Schengen agreement," it added.

Under the rules of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, if one Schengen member red-flags a name in its border control system, all the other Schengen countries are obliged to keep that person out.

Hermitage had in any case said the Kratov prosecution was an attempt to scapegoat a junior official so that high-level figures involved in the conspiracy could get off the hook.

It is currently focusing its energies on a money laundering probe in Cyprus, where Cypriot banks allegedly helped the Magnitsky conspirators to move around €23 million of the stolen tax money out of Russia.

But Putin's recent announcement - at an EU-Russia summit just before Christmas - that he is willing to contribute to an international bailout for Nicosia has caused concerns the Russian money will be used to quash the Cypriot enquiry.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us