Sergei Magnitsky was our attorney, and friend, who died under excruciating circumstances in a Moscow pre-trial detention center on Nov. 16, 2009. His story is one of extraordinary bravery and heroism, and ultimately tragedy. It is also a story about how Stalinism and the gulags are alive and well in Russia today.
Ultimately Sergei died for a principle -- he died because believed in the rule of law in Russia. When he stumbled upon an enormous fraud against his clients and the Russian government, he thought he was simply doing the right thing by reporting it. He never imagined that he would die for his efforts.
The precise circumstances of his death are still unclear. We do know Sergei died suddenly at the age of 37, after an 11-month detention. At first, the detention center where he died said the cause of his death was a rupture to his abdominal membrane, but on the same day the prison officials changed their story, saying he had died of a heart attack. They refused his family's request to conduct an independent autopsy. His diaries are reported to be missing.
Because Sergei is no longer alive to tell his story, I feel it is my duty to tell it for him. I am not a writer or a journalist, but a fund manager at Hermitage Capital Management. I ran what was the largest investment fund in Russia. Sergei was our Moscow-based outside counsel who worked for the American law firm Firestone Duncan.
Sergei wasn't involved in politics, he wasn't an oligarch, and he wasn't a human rights activist. He was just a highly competent professional -- the kind of person one could call up as the workday was finishing at 7 p.m. with a legal question and he would cancel his dinner plans and stay in the office until midnight to figure out the answer. He was a smart and honest man working hard to better himself and to make a good life for his wife and two kids.
The tragic events that led to his death began on June 4, 2007. That day, 50 police officers from the Moscow Interior Ministry raided Hermitage's and Firestone Duncan's offices, under the pretense of a tax investigation into a Hermitage client company. There was no reason for the raid, as the company they were investigating was regularly audited by the tax authorities, and they never found any violations.
In the course of the raid, the police officers took away all the corporate seals, charters, and articles of association of all of the fund's investment companies -- none of which had anything to do with their search warrant. The significance of these seizures would only become apparent later.