Monday

5th Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Analysis

Austrian far-right: beaten, but not defeated

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer's loss to Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen sent relief across Europe, but his party is still in a good position to head a government in the future.

Italy referendum spooks eurozone

Prime minister Matteo Renzi's resignation, followed by a crushing rejection of his reforms, has sent the euro plunging against the dollar and put the country's fragile banking system at risk.

News in Brief

  1. EU dismisses euro crisis risk after Italian referendum
  2. Italy result poses no risk to the EU, Sapin says
  3. EU asked to clarify links to Iran executions
  4. Italian economy minister tipped as caretaker PM
  5. EU tells US tech giants to act faster against hate speech
  6. Iceland's Pirates in bid to form government
  7. Danes are the happiest workers, study says
  8. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICESI Congress Focuses on Future of Work, Public Services and Digitalisation
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. No euro crisis after Italian vote, says EU
  2. Austrian far-right: beaten, but not defeated
  3. Czech, Slovak MEPs 'shocked' by EU comments on Castro
  4. Italy and visa-free travel on EU agenda This WEEK
  5. Italy referendum spooks eurozone
  6. Optimistic liberals look for more influence
  7. What the EU will learn from Trump's Taiwan blunder
  8. Liberals ponder Verhofstadt's chances for parliament top post