A prosecutor on Monday unexpectedly pressed for the acquittal of the only official to be tried in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer whose death in prison three years ago generated an international furor over Russian human rights abuses.
The prosecutor’s turnabout, made in his closing argument, came as the Russian government has been moving aggressively to retaliate against the US for adopting a law named for Magnitsky that will deny travel and investment access to Russian citizens accused of violating human rights.
Magnitsky was representing a London investment firm, Hermitage Capital, when he was arrested in November 2008 as he tried to expose a huge government tax fraud. He died, still in detention, nearly a year later. His supporters — including the firm’s founder, William Browder, once among the most prominent foreign investors in Russia and a sharp critic of the Russian government — blamed the authorities for his death, saying he was denied proper medical care.
An investigation yielded charges against two people, both doctors: Larisa Litvinova, who oversaw Magnitsky’s treatment during his last weeks, and Dmitri Kratov, formerly the chief medical official of the prison where he was held for the last four months of his life, Butyrskaya.
This year, prosecutors dropped a charge of professional negligence against Litvinova, saying the statute of limitations had run out.
On Monday, the prosecutor, Konstantin Bokov, urged the court to acquit Kratov.
“There is no cause-and-effect relationship between Kratov’s actions and Magnitsky’s death,” Bokov said, according to Russian news services. “I request his acquittal.”
A verdict is expected by the end of the week.
However, a lawyer for Magnitsky’s family told the court that Kratov signed prison records declaring Magnitsky fit to remain imprisoned despite his repeated complaints about needing medical care, and that Kratov knew that Magnitsky was suffering from acute pancreatitis and gallstones in the days before his death.