Death Investigations | Investigations in Russia

Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating a corruption case for UK-based investment firm Hermitage Capital Management, died on November 16, 2009 following 358 days in police custody in Moscow. He wrote 450 letters about his arrest based on spurious charges and lack of medical treatment while in detention. Still,during Magnitsky’s final hours, he reportedly did not receive any necessary medical attention.

Russian investigators identified heart failure due to a preexisting condition as Magnitsky’s cause of death, but ignored significant findings about the continuously worsening and torturous conditions he endured while in custody. During the year Magnitsky was imprisoned, he developed conditions requiring medical assistance, but received none.

In 2011, PHR conducted an independent medical review of available documents and reports,including official autopsy reports, pertaining to Magnitsky’s death, and concluded that he had suffered from calculated and deliberate neglect and inhumane treatment in prison ultimately leading to his death. PHR also requested, but was denied, access to additional records, including toxicology reports. In August 2019, the European Court of Human Rights, citing PHR’s forensic review, unanimously ruled that Russia was at fault for Magnitsky’s death.

Magnitsky’s case garnered international attention, and when President Obama met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in July 2011, he raised  the death of Magnitsky, among other human rights issues. Punitive legislation toward Russian authorities, known as the Magnitsky Act, was introduced by U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, who declared, “In the absence of a formal and independent investigation into his death, the exact circumstances leading to his death remain shrouded under a veil of government secrecy.”  Numerous countries have followed suit,imposing sanctions against Russian officials and others believed to have been responsible for the arrest and death of Magnitsky.

Years after Magnistky’s death,there still has not been a criminal investigation against those responsible for his imprisonment and, ultimately, his demise. Tissues from injuries found on Magnitsky’s body after his death were not removed during the autopsy and their forensic analysis has not been carried out.

PHR continues to call for the Russian government to accept responsibility for the torture, medical neglect, and substandard prison conditions that caused Magnitsky’s death.

PHR’s then-director of the forensics program Stefan Schmitt and forensic pathologist Dr. Robert Bux reviewed official documents made available through the victim’s mother. Their report concludes that:

  • Mr. Magnitsky suffered prolonged severe pain, and was denied regular contact with his family, denied medical evaluations for his complaints, fed meals irregularly, and kept under inhumane conditions.
  • The official Russian autopsy protocol (on which all subsequent Russian medical studies were based) was inconsistent with best international practice and deviated significantly from standard U.S. protocols.
  • Tissues from injuries found on Magnitsky’s body after his death were not removed during the autopsy and their forensic analysis has not been carried out.

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