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Russian lawyer for fund dies in custody

He was jailed for his work with the British firm, a vocal critic of corruption, and had been in poor health.

November 18, 2009|Megan K. Stack

MOSCOW — A lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, the investment fund locked in a scandal-soaked clash with Russian authorities, died in a Moscow jail, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Sergei Magnitsky, 37, died of a heart attack Monday night, spokeswoman Irina Dudukina said. Jailed for the last year on tax charges related to his work with Hermitage, Magnitsky had complained that he was being kept in poor conditions and denied medical care despite his failing health.

Magnitsky had been suffering for months from poor health and chest pains, said his lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov. Three weeks ago, he was transferred to a medical unit in Moscow's Butyrskaya prison, Kharitonov said. But even then, he said, Magnitsky wasn't given medicine or treatment.

Kharitonov said he last saw Magnitsky on Thursday, when a Moscow court decided to extend his pretrial detention. Magnitsky's supporters say the charges were fabricated.

"Sergei was visibly in shock," Kharitonov said. "That decision must have sped up the deterioration of his health."

Magnitsky was transferred to a prison hospital shortly before he died, Kharitonov said.

Dudukina, the Interior Ministry spokeswoman, denied that Magnitsky had requested treatment.

"One of our investigators studied Magnitsky's prison records today and found no indication that the deceased complained in the past of feeling sick," she said.

"He did, more than once, complain about the prison conditions, but never of his poor health."

An autopsy would reveal more details in coming days, Dudukina said.

In Moscow's notoriously rough-and-tumble business climate, Hermitage has been vocal and vehement in its denouncements of officially aided theft, bullying and fraud. The British fund has said that documents and certificates collected during a 2007 police raid were subsequently used to seize related companies and grab $230 million in tax refunds.

William Browder, a prominent U.S.-born investor who ran Hermitage, has been barred from entering Russia. When the troubles first began, the fund moved to London and pulled most of its employees out of the country.

Six Russian lawyers working for Hermitage have been forced to flee the country or go into hiding, the fund said in a YouTube clip released last month.

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megan.stack@latimes.com

Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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