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Russia finds no evidence of torture in Magnitsky case

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

MOSCOW — Russian investigators found no evidence of violence against a lawyer who died in custody after accusing officials and police officers of running a multimillion-dollar tax refund scam, officials said on Tuesday.

Sergei Magnitsky, who worked as a legal adviser for the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund in Moscow, died in 2009 of heart insufficiency and brain and lung edema resulting from diabetes and hepatitis while in pretrial detention on tax charges, the Russian Investigative Committee said on its website.

Human rights groups had described Magnitsky's death as suspicious and alleged that he was tortured after his 2008 arrest, was denied medical treatment and was beaten in the final hours of his life. Magnitsky's arrest had followed his allegations that officials engaged in tax fraud had embezzled $230 million from state coffers.

“During Magnitsky's stay in investigation prisons, no special conditions were created for keeping him in custody different from the keeping of other prisoners under investigation; no pressure, no physical violence or torture was applied on him,” the committee's statement said. “Thus in the course of the criminal case investigation, no objective data of crimes against Sergei Magnitsky were obtained.”

The case led to a U.S. measure, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, signed by President Obama in December, which imposed visa restrictions and froze the U.S. bank accounts of some Russian officials. Moscow responded by banning adoption of Russian orphans by American couples.

The lawyer's mother, Natalia Magnitskaya, called the committee's statement an “outright lie,” saying Magnitsky, who died at 37, was not suffering from health problems when he was arrested.

“This statement once again demonstrates that I can get no justice in Russia,” she said, adding that her lawyers had submitted the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

William Browder, chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management and Magnitsky's former employer, said the committee's statement said more about Russia's reaction to the measures taken by the U.S. than about whether Magnitsky was beaten in custody.

“The statement has nothing to do with justice,” Browder said from London. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin is obviously upset that he can no longer protect corrupt Russian officials' savings and property in the West, which have been challenged through the Magnitsky Act.”

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