The Corrupt Officers Attempt to Arrest 8 Lawyers
60 Untouchables – officers of the Russian Interior Ministry and other state officials – have been implicated in the theft of $230 million from the Russian people. The lawyers and executives of the Hermitage Fund who reported this crime to the Russian authorities, have themselves become the targets of persecution by these Untouchables.
On 30 September 2009, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a special resolution demanding that Russian government end its attacks on Hermitage and its lawyers. Since the passing of this Resolution, Sergei Magnitsky was murdered in custody. A new lawyer who confronted the investigators has become another target of persecution.
Attacks on the first two lawyers who reported the theft
On 3 December 2007, lawyers for the Hermitage Fund filed complaints with Russian authorities about the involvement of Interior Ministry officers in the theft of three Russian investment companies from the Hermitage Fund. These complaints were filed with the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office, the Head of the Russian Investigative Committee of the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Head of the Internal Affairs Department of the Interior Ministry. The complaints were filed by HSBC as trustee for Hermitage Fund and it implicated Interior Ministry officers Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov and Major Pavel Karpov in the theft of the Hermitage Fund companies.
These Hermitage complaints calling for the opening of a criminal case were left without consideration for two months. In the meantime, the perpetrators of the theft –the corrupt state officials and their criminal accomplices – finished their crime and obtained $230 million from the state budget, claiming these tax funds had been “overpaid” by Hermitage. The Russian tax authorities approved this application for the largest publicly known tax refund in one day, on 24 December 2007.
On 5 February 2008, following a two-month consideration and additional requests from Hermitage lawyers, the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case regarding the misappropriation of the Hermitage Fund’s investment companies.
Soon thereafter, Sergei Magnitsky gave a testimony about the role in the theft of the Interior Ministry officers Kuznetsov, Karpov and other officials. During his questioning, he learned that Lt Col Kuznetsov had been assigned to “assist” with this investigation – investigation in which same Lt Col Kuznetsov was implicated.
Officer Kuznetsov then proceeded to open a fabricated criminal case against the two lawyers who filed the Hermitage complaint against him. The same lawyers were also subjected to unlawful searches and summonses for questioning as witnesses by Interior Ministry – in gross violation of Russian law and international covenants protecting lawyers from intimidation and from interference with their professional duties. The two Hermitage lawyers fled Russia.
Arrest of Sergei Magnitsky
On 7 October 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, despite the fact that he had seen two of his colleagues attacked and chased out of the country, decided to give another sworn statement about the criminal roles of Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov and Major Karpov in the theft of the companies and the subsequent theft of $230 million from the budget.
In response, the Interior Ministry’s Investigative Committee formed a team to investigate the case against Sergei Magnitsky. This team again included Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov as well as three subordinates, Droganov, Krechetov and Tolchinsky. This was done by the decision of the Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry’ Investigative Committee, Oleg Logunov, on 12 November 2008. On Monday morning, 24 November 2008, Lt Col Kuznetsov’s subordinates came to Sergei Magnitsky’s home and arrested him in front of his wife and two children.
Two Hermitage lawyers were now in exile and one was sitting in pre-trial detention.
Attack on Three More Lawyers Who Worked with Sergei Magnitsky
On 25 November 2008, one day after Sergei’s arrest, three groups of five Interior Ministry officers – each working under Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov – came to the apartments of three of Sergei Magnitsky’s colleagues to arrest them. None of the lawyers were home. The officers searched all of their apartments and the lawyers, realizing that they would be arrested if they stayed in Russia, all fled the country.
Five lawyers were now in exile and one was sitting in pre-trial detention.
Attack on Sergei Magnitsky’s boss
After Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest, Sergei Magnitsky’s boss, Jamison Firestone, an American attorney who has worked in Russia since 1991 and who sat on the Board of Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, was very vocal in protesting Sergei’s arrest.
On 1 August 2009, Firestone received a letter from the Russian tax inspectorate informing him that someone had forged his signature on a fraudulent request for a refund of $21.5 million in taxes from the Russian treasury. He immediately filed two complaints reporting the attempted theft and when no action was taken he filed a complaint with the General Prosecutor’s office in October of 2009. Again no action was taken. In late December he received another letter from the tax inspectorate informing him that the criminals had made a second and more serious attempt to steal the $21.5 million in taxes just one week after Sergei’s death in pre-trial detention. Mr. Firestone decided to leave Russia fearing that corrupt interior Ministry officers would try to arrest him just as they had tried to arrest every other lawyer who had reported their thefts from the government. Immediately after leaving Russia he filed the following complaint on the first working day of 2010 reporting this 2nd attempted theft.
[Download this document in PDF]
Six lawyers are now in exile and one is dead.
Attack on 8th lawyer
Alexander Antipov, a Russian lawyer who has been advising Hermitage Capital since the illegal arrest and detention of Sergei Magnitsky, has himself now come under attack from the Russian Interior Ministry. Following Antipov’s filing of over 20 complaints and petitions about the illegal actions taken by investigators and judges against Sergei Magnitsky and his client, Major Oleg Silchenko of the Interior Ministry is trying to prosecute lawyer Antipov.
Investigator Silchenko is the same investigator who was personally responsible for the repression and torture of Sergei Magnitsky in custody. He denied Magnitsky’s petitions for urgent medical care and violated Magnitsky’s fundamental rights and freedoms, including his right to life. He denied Magnitsky and his lawyers access to mandatory case documents. He denied Magnitsky’s lawyers any information about Magnitsky’s health several hours before his death. Earlier, Silchenko was involved in another politically motivated case against a leader of Russian independent media, Manana Aslamazyan.
Antipov has challenged the illegal actions taken by Interior Ministry investigators, and in particular he has filed complaints with Russian courts, the Russian General Prosecutor’s office and the Interior Ministry itself regarding Investigator Oleg Silchenko. In these complaints, Antipov has set forth Silchenko’s active role in organizing repressive cases against innocent people and in the torture and death in detention of 37 year-old Sergei Magnitsky. Antipov has also highlighted the role Silchenko has played as lead investigator in the cover-up of the involvement of senior Interior Ministry officers, Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, in the theft of $230 million from the Russian treasury.
On 14 May 2010, Major Silchenko filed a petition with the Moscow City Bar Association in an attempt to disbar Antipov. This was the first step in a criminal case against a lawyer. The letter asked that Antipov be disbarred for submitting false evidence to Interior Ministry investigators.
On 3 June 2008 the head of the Bar Association’s administrative office, Olga Martinyuk said that Silchenko’s request had been refused because the association found no basis for disciplinary action against Antipov.
In a disavowal of Major Silchenko’s illegal actions, an Interior Ministry spokesman said the Interior Ministry itself had not requested Antipov’s disbarment and that he could not comment on any request made by an investigator as a private citizen.
However, it is clear that Major Silchenko did not in fact make his request as a private person and that he illegally made his request that Antipov be disbarred on behalf of the Interior Ministry, a clear abuse of his power – as were all the attacks on the lawyers.
The motivation of Investigator Silchenko in repressing the Hermitage Capital lawyers was summarized by Sergei Magnitsky in his own hand-written statement prepared four days prior to his tragic death:
“I have been detained in prison for a year as a hostage in the interests of the persons, whose intention it is to ensure that the criminals actually guilty in the theft of 5.4 billion rubles [$230 million] from the state budget will never be found… Investigator Silchenko does not want to identify the other [other than a sawmill employee] persons, who made this fraud possible. He instead wants the lawyers of the Hermitage Fund, who pursued and continue to pursue attempts for this case to be investigated, be forced to emigrate from their country in which criminal cases were filed against them, or like me be detained in prison. My imprisonment has nothing in common with the legal purposes of criminal proceedings.., but this is a punishment for my merely defending the interests of my client, and finally the interests of the State.”
Six lawyers are now in exile, one lawyer is dead, and an eighth is coming under illegal attack.
The attacks on the Hermitage lawyers and executives have been condemned at the highest forum of which Russia is a member, the Council of Europe. In June and August 2009, the Council of Europe issued a report establishing the attacks on Hermitage lawyers as politically-motivated abuses of the criminal justice system. In September 2009, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution calling to end the persecution of Hermitage and their lawyers.