EU Commission: Magnitsky Case an Important Litmus Test for President Medvedev

Heidi Hautala presented on 30. September a question to the EU Commission about the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky on 16. November 2009 in Moscow, Russia. In its response the Commission noted that despite the President’s rhetoric until date not one person has been officially charged with a crime in this case and stressed the need for an effective investigation into the death and the corruption charges Magnitsky was working on when he died.[:]

What is the EU assessment of the effectiveness and the impartiality of the investigation of the arrest and death in custody of 37-year old Sergei Magnitsky? Is the EU satisfied with the progress of the official Russian investigation? And if not, what is the EU planning to be doing to address the concerns over apparent and well-documented police corruption and human rights abuse in this case?
The tragic death of Mr Magnitsky while in prison is of great concern for the EU. We have been following the case very closely and are well aware that there has been no breakthrough in the investigation into Mr Magnitsky’s death up until now.

It is essential that all allegations of human rights abuses in Russia are investigated effectively and impartially, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. In this regard, the EU has welcomed President Medvedev’s calls for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Magnitsky.

The death of Mr Magnitsky is unfortunately not a isolated case. It should be viewed in context of the overall situation of, to use the President words, “legal nihilism” in the Russian Federation. Thus, in addition to stressing the need for an effective investigation of this particular case, the Commission in its contacts with the Russian authorities continues to push for transparency in judicial practices in Russia and for effective inquiries into suspected abuses in the criminal justice system. In addition, the Commission consistently emphasizes the urgency of broader, more comprehensive reforms of Russia’s judicial system.

Mr Magnitsky’s death has prompted some positive moves by President Medvedev, in the context of his Modernisation agenda: shortly after this tragic event, President Medvedev initiated a reform of Russia’s penitentiary system, ordered a re-write of the criminal code so that suspects of tax crimes could not be jailed, and initiated a bill against corporate raiding which was then recently signed into law. The EU has welcomed these initiatives. During her visit to Moscow in February this year, HR/VP Catherine Ashton, in her contacts with both President Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov, encouraged Moscow to engage actively on strengthening the rule of law in the country.

The EU and the Russian authorities are set to hold a round of regular consultations on human rights in Brussels on 17 November 2010. The questions of the rule of law and judiciary are standing items in these meetings and they are on top of our agenda for the upcoming consultations. Human rights consultations complement the exchanges on human rights that take place at political level by going into greater detail, including on individual cases such as that of Mr Magnitsky.

We have to admit of course that despite the President’s rhetoric and despite the continuous domestic as well as international pressure, until date not one person has been officially charged with a crime in this case. Also, no further inquiries have been made into the corruption case that Mr Magnistky was working on prior to his death. The European Home Affairs Commissioner Malmström expressed in May 2010, at a meeting in Kazan, serious concerns to Russian InteriorMinister Nurgaliyev and Justice Minister Konovalov with regard to Moscow’s failure to investigate Interior Ministry officials involved in a $230 million corruption case exposed by Sergei Magnitsky.

Today, the Magnitsky case remains an important litmus test of whether President Medvedev is serious in his recent calls for modernization and rule-of-law in Russia. In view of this, the Commission will continue raising this and other similar cases in its contacts with Russia at various levels, including the highest, and calling for an effective and impartial investigation.