When my Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in police custody in November 2009, I thought that there was a good chance of getting justice for him from the Russian legal system for what I believe to be his murder. Unlike in many other human rights abuse cases, there was a mountain of documentary evidence proving exactly who killed him.
Sergei had given official testimony to Russian investigators prior to his arrest describing how the police were involved in stealing our companies as well as the $230 million in taxes we had paid to the Russian budget. Official police documents show that the same police officers who Sergei testified against arrested him. After his arrest, Sergei wrote 450 complaints during his 358 days in detention detailing exactly how his rights were violated and who did what to him at every different moment of his horrible ordeal. His complaints showed how specific state officials and judges refused his desperate requests for medical care, fabricated evidence to keep him locked up, and moved him through dozens of cells.
As Sergei was being tortured in detention, the Russian officials who approved the largest known tax refund fraud in Russian history, and their families, got inexplicably rich. On Nov. 16, 2009, Sergei went into critical condition from the withholding of medical care. Only then did the authorities move him to a prison hospital, but instead of treating him, they put him in an isolation cell and let eight riot guards with rubber batons beat him for one hour and 18 minutes until he was dead. He was 37 years old. There is nothing debatable in this story. It was laid out in great detail by the Moscow Public Oversight Commission on Dec. 28, 2009, and then subsequently by President Dmitry Medvedev's own Human Rights Council on July 5, 2011.
Unfortunately, contrary to my initial hopes, there has been no justice. Just the opposite. The entire apparatus of the Russian government has circled the wagons to protect every official involved. The Interior Ministry officers who arrested Sergei, denied him medical care, and tortured him to death received state medals and were promoted. The Russian Investigative Committee has exonerated 58 of the 60 officials for whom there is clear evidence of their involvement in the case. (They are only prosecuting the two prison doctors for negligence). The Russian courts have refused dozens of appeals for justice filed by Sergei's family, friends, and activists. Perhaps the most dramatic development is that instead of prosecuting the people who killed Sergei, the police have now launched Russia's first-ever posthumous prosecution against him. Even Joseph Stalin never went that far.
What's more remarkable is that this coverup is not going on in the shadows. Every development in this case is being reported in detail in Russia and abroad. The Levada Center has surveyed Russians and found that 60 percent believe Sergei was deliberately denied medical care. If you search for the name "Magnitsky" on Russia's largest search engine, Yandex, you get 18,990 news articles that have been published in Russia about every minute detail of the case and the coverup since he was killed. The YouTube video series "Russian Untouchables," which shows the illicit wealth of the officials exposed by Sergei, has been watched by millions of Russians.