Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile; JURIST news archive] said that the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial was the result of criminal acts, differing from the previous explanation that had blamed prison doctors. Medvedev was presented with a report [AFP report] on Magnitsky's death during a meeting [press release, in Russian] with the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights that said Magnitsky was beaten to death by prison guards before his death. An investigation into the death had explained the death as a denial of health care. Magnitsky was arrested on allegations of tax fraud after implicating Russian police in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal, while working as outside counsel for the London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management [corporate website]. He was held in detention without a trial for over a year before he officials. He died [JURIST report] in a Moscow prison in November 2009. The report says that there were serious conflicts of interest [Reuters report] with the investigation of Magnitsky since the investigators were the same ones against whom he testified in the embezzlement scandal. Magnitsky's pre-trial death is a blow to Medvedev's desire for legal and judicial reform [JURIST report] and Russia's commitment to the rule of law.
Prior to his death, Magnitsky was held in prison for 358 days with little to no access to legal representation, his family or medical professionals. In February, the Council began investigating Magnitsky's death and the verdicts handed down against former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website]. The Council's goal is to submit to Medvedev, "expert legal analysis in connection with specific cases causing public outcry or defining trend of judicial practice." The Council began its work shortly after a group of independent UN human rights experts started its own investigation into the circumstances around Magnitsky's death. Last year, US lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] that would prohibit the US State Department (DOS) [official website] from issuing visas to individuals, or their family members, who are connected to Magnitsky's death.