Sunday, July 4, 2010
Russia’s Internal Affairs Ministry’s Department for Own Safety says it will begin a “check” on Russian Militsiya lieutenant colonel Artem Kuznetsov, who is publicly accused by a group of American lawyers of illegitimately imprisoning and then torturing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to death. Later, head of Investigating Committee of the Prosecution Office Alexander Bastrykin said he will “personally check” the course of investigation into actions by Kuznetsov and his coworkers. In 2007 and 2008, Magnitsky worked in Russia for American investment fund company Hermitage Capital Management and was involved in the disclosure of a large-scale corruption among several top law enforcement officials in Moscow.
Lawyers concerned with the death of Magnitsky, which occurred in Butyrka prison on November 16 of last year, started the bilingual website russian-untouchables.com, where they presented evidence of Artem Kuznetsov’s alleged efforts to cloak the crimes. As reported by the website’s authors, Kuznetsov was a key player in a US$230 million theft from the Russian government and then successfully brought criminal charges against everyone who reported his theft.
The central part of website material is a ten-minute video providing a summary of the case. Its main point is the fact that multiple large-scale luxury buyings registered to members of Kuznetsov’s family; they are not comparable to official income of all of these persons. It is emphasized in the video that Kuznetsov’s official monthly income is $850 per month (in roubles), and to gain all the assets found to be connected with him he would have to work for 322 years. The video was released in the middle of last week, and gained enormous popularity within Russian blogosphere, and drew attention of some mass media.
One of the American lawyers, Jamison Firestone, states at the website that last month he directed several petitions to check the sources of Kuznetsov’s family wealth to Russian authorities: the President of Russia, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Department for Own Safety and Department for Preventing Corruption and Other Crimes of Interior Ministry. News website Lenta.ru states that addresses were directed on May, 21, but there were no replies since then.
Magnitsky’s case has received international attention for several months. In April 2010 US Senator Ben Cardin proposed the cancellation of US visas to 60 Russian officials allegedly connected with Magnitsky’s death. He directed an appeal to US State Secretary Hillary Clinton.
There has been no decision on it yet, but last Tuesday Clinton urged Russia to bring officials responsible for the death of Magnitsky to justice, The Daily Telegraph says. She told the US-Russia “Civil Society to Civil Society” summit in Washington that the Obama administration is “deeply concerned about the safety of journalists and human rights activists in Russia”. In the meantime Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were meeting last week during Medvedev’s visit to US.
Magnitsky’s advocates emphasize that Kuznetsov, since committing his crimes, was promoted in service; previously, he was working for the Department of Tax Crimes of the Central Internal Affairs Directorate of Moscow, and at the start of 2010 began to work in Department for Economic Safety of the Interior Ministry. Recently there were many cases when civil groups and private persons publicly reported alleged large-scale corruption crimes within top Russian authorities, with some evidence provided.