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The managing partner of a Moscow law firm has fled Russia over fears he is being targeted by the same people he claims are responsible for the death of one of his partners.
Jamison Firestone, co-founder of tax firm Firestone Duncan, has not been back to Russia since Christmas after claiming to have uncovered a criminal conspiracy that bears a resemblance to the events that led to the detention and death in custody of his former partner Sergey Magnitsky (The Lawyer, 25 November 2009).
Firestone said that officials from Russia’s Interior Ministry have made two attempts to obtain, through an allegedly fraudulent tax refund, $21m (£13.57m) that he paid to the Russian government in his capacity as general director of investment company OOO Anrider.
Firestone claims that on 1 August 2009 he received an envelope from the tax authority containing fraudulently signed and sealed OOO Anrider documents asking for the tax rebate, which had been rejected by the authority as forgeries. A similar attempt was made to claim the same rebate in December.
Firestone said that he twice told officials about the incident, alleging that they had refused to investigate the allegations in a meaningful manner, instead breaking the case up into various individual complaints to be dealt with by separate, low-level investigators.
“There’s a group of people trying to steal money and to make it look like I did it,” said Firestone. “I can’t be sure what’s happening here. I can be sure who’s behind this. What’s clear is that this is the same thing that happened to my client Hermitage Fund and led to Magnitsky’s death.
“When he [Magnitsky] died, the whole country was up in arms and even the president got involved, but these people were still brazen enough to try to take this money. So I thought that if I’m still on the ground in Moscow, just waiting, then sooner or later I’m going to get snatched like Magnitsky was. So my feeling is that I’m going to fight this from [London]; I’m going to complain at all levels until the general prosecutor does its job.”
Firestone said he hopes to return to Moscow once the situation is resolved.
Magnitsky had been representing Hermitage Capital when he was arrested and detained on charges of tax fraud. He died in custody in November 2009, prompting Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to order an investigation (The Lawyer, 11 December 2009).
Describing a series of events that bear a similarity to the allegations made by Firestone, Hermitage Capital chief executive William Bowder alleged in a YouTube video released last year that he was accused of tax fraud after his offices were raided and documents taken to fraudulently transfer ownership of his companies and steal $230m from Russian taxpayers.
Firestone Duncan continues to operate, with a team of lawyers remaining in Moscow and Firestone working from an office in London. Firestone co-founded the firm in 1993.
The Russian Interior Ministry could not be contacted for comment.