Russian authorities to launch probe into death of Hermitage Capital lawyer

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into the death of a Russian lawyer who died in custody.

Sergey Magnitsky, 37, died in a Moscow prison on 16 November after being held without trial for almost a year on charges of tax evasion. According to prosecutors he died of a heart attack.

On 24 November President Medvedev, a trained lawyer himself, instructed Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov to investigate the death of Magnitsky.

According to Natalia Timakova, press secretary for the head of Russian state, Medvedev has also instructed his reports to test the quality of health care provided at prisons, detention facilities and other institutions of the Federal Penitentiary Service.

Magnitsky was a partner at Moscow-based firm Firestone Duncan. He had been advising Hermitage Capital, once the largest western investor in Russia, on tax fraud charges made against it by Russian state officials when he become embroiled in the case and was arrested on charges of tax evasion.

He was denied bail on the grounds that he had applied for a British visa, something the UK embassy later denied, according to reports.

“I would say that the reaction is numb, shell shock,” said one Moscow legal source. “Mr Magnitsky was at the wrong place at the wrong time; a small firm responsible for advising Hermitage Capital.”

Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder – who has now been placed on Russia’s Federal search list – has posted a video on Youtube repudiating the charges and putting forward his side of the story