Russian accountant and auditor Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009, in custody awaiting trial, at age 37. He had been arrested the year before after denouncing what he said was state-sanctioned tax fraud – theft which amounted to some 130 million euros – by police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and Russian organised criminals.
He had been representing the UK-based Hermitage Capital Management investment fund. Swiftly, Magnitsky found himself accused of tax fraud. He had said some officials accused Hermitage of tax evasion after they falsely reclaimed taxes paid by the company.
He wrote to his mother about his suffering in Butyrka prison in increasingly squalid cells.
Nataliya Magnitskaya read out an excerpt: “I have been moved. These living conditions are a lot worse than anywhere else. There is no fridge, television or hot water. I’ve even been waiting for three weeks to see the doctor despite writing applications and a complaint.”
Magnitsky’s mother said she had not been allowed to visit him more than once, and that she found him exhausted and emaciated.
She was told about his death 12 hours after it happened. Human rights monitors said Magnitsky had been beaten and intentionally deprived of medical help, but the Russian authorities denied and rejected this.
Hermitage Capital represents three billion euros in investments and is the largest such fund operating in Russia since 1996. At its head, Bill Browder has not returned to Russia since his employee’s death.
Instead, Browder has campaigned to have international sanctions brought against the people responsible.
Only the United States responded, enacting a law named after the deceased, freezing around 60 people’s assets and imposing a travel visa ban against them and against any considered to have gravely violated human rights in Russia.
Russia responded with similar retaliatory measures and by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.