Russia’s Rule of Thugs: The Posthumous Trial of Magnitsky
Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
European Parliament: “[The trial] is a violation of international and national laws and clearly shows the malfunctioning of the Russian criminal justice system.”
US Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA): “Unfortunately, the ordeal of Sergei Magnitsky did not end with his death. All these malevolent moves make it clear that Russian leaders recognize that they no longer have the support of the people they govern, and so they must resort to scare tactics to try and keep the lid on dissent.”
Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky was coerced in prison to give false testimony, tortured, and died for tax evasion suspicion without ever receiving a trial (2008-2009). Last Thursday, July 11, Russian Federation’s first ever posthumous trial was a held, and of course, Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion—hardly a crime worthy of death and torture. The trial is being criticized as a “show trial” likened to the times of Joseph Stalin.
Sergei Magnitsky was a 37 year old lawyer and auditor in Moscow for the law firm Firestone Duncan. His client, Hermitage Capital Management, was charged with tax evasion and fraud by the Russian Interior Ministry. In Magnitsky’s auditing investigations exposed a web of financial corruption, violation of law and police abuse. The culprits he identified were allegedly in collusion with Interior Ministry officials and members of organized crime.
The Magnitsky case demonstrates to the world how authoritarian and brutal Russia really is behind the scenes and that it is a state without the genuine rule of law. At the time of his death, three years ago now, Russian national public outrage led then President Dmitry Medvedev to fire the deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Alexander Piskunov.
The head Interior Ministry official responsible for the tax crimes department, Major-General Anatoli Mikhalkin, was also dismissed shortly after Magnitsky’s death.
Medvedev also signed a law that forbade jailing suspects of tax evasion. But another law is pointless in lawless country.
In 2011, the Investigative Committee of Russia was formed and found that Magnitsky died because of a lack of medical care in the prison facility Batyrka. Evidence that he was beaten before death was also presented. Recently, the Investigative Committee said that there was “no foul play” from any officials. Naturally, then, no one was ever arrested or sentenced for his detention and death without trial.
US-Russian Federation relations are at an all-time low. The US 2012 Magnitsky Act banned a number of Russian officials and citizens suspected in the involvement. This was soon followed by a Russian ban on American citizens from adopting Russian babies.
The Magnitsky death has been at the center of the storm and tossed back and forth in dueling legislation. Russia cracks down on any foreign criticism and intervention into its internal politics, basically saying, ‘we run our country our way.’ The Federation Council is considering labeling the Obama Administration a “criminal regime” in light of their corrupt political exposure. The situation is a widening political tit-for-tat mechanism targeting Russia’s atrocious internal human rights violations.
The US and the international community continue to express humanitarian concerns and employ varying political tactics or soft diplomatic punishments and resolutions. The latest trial will not make diplomacy any easier for US-EU-Russian relations.