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Russia lawyer death prompts criticism from Hermitage founder

[JURIST] A lawyer who represented London-based hedge fund Hermitage Capital [firm website] in a suit against Kremlin [official website, in Russian] officials alleging theft and fraud died in Matrosskaya Tishina Detention Center [BBC News report] in Moscow last week. Hermitage CEO William Browder had hired Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to represent him from abroad after Browder was declared a national security threat and denied a visa by the Russian government in 2005. Russian authorities arrested Magnitsky after raiding the offices of Hermitage and Firestone Duncan [firm website], the law firm where Magnitsky worked. Russian officials claim that Magnitsky had conspired with Browder's companies to commit tax fraud, but Browder has since decried the allegations, claiming [London Times backgrounder] that certain Kremlin officials stole company information for their own financial gain. Testifying [transcript, PDF] in front of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) [official website] this summer, Browder stated:

In most countries of the world, the spheres of business executives, government officials and criminals don’t typically overlap. In Russia, these three groups have become essentially indistinguishable. All too often in today’s Russia, there is no contradiction in someone being a business executive, senior government official and crime boss all at the same time.

Magnitsky was held for over a year without bail [Radio Free Europe report] prior to his death, which prison officials say was caused by heart failure. Family members have stated that Magnitsky was repeatedly denied medical treatment while being detained in several detention centers. He was buried [Moscow Times report] Monday after Preobrazhensky Interregional Prosecutor’s Office [official website, in Russian] in Moscow refused requests for a second autopsy.

Magnitsky is the latest in a series of high-profile individuals to die under uncertain circumstances in Russia. Earlier this month, a suspect was arrested [JURIST report] for the double murder [JURIST report] of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov had represented famed journalist Anna Politskovskaya [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] who was shot and killed [JURIST report] in 2006. To date, no one has been convicted [JURIST report] for Politkovskaya's murder. Russia has also received a great deal of criticism for apparently baseless detentions such as Magnitsky's. The expropriation of OAO Yukos Oil Co. [Time backgrounder] and the indictment against and detention of company founder, Mikhail Khordorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] have provoked the condemnation [JURIST op-ed] of many legal experts abroad.

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