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Method In The Arbitrariness


Defense lawyer Boris Kuznetsov fears persecution for reporting an illegal FSB wire-tapping to the courts.

Defense lawyer Boris Kuznetsov fears persecution for reporting an illegal FSB wire-tapping to the courts.

Those keeping track of President Dmitry Medvedev's efforts to inculcate the rule of law in Russia will want to keep an eye on the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a legal and financial adviser with the Moscow-based auditing firm Firestone Duncan. Officials in Moscow confirmed for RFE/RL's Russian Service that Magnitsky was arrested last week on suspicion of conspiracy to evade taxes. He has been denied bail and will be held in remand prison pending trial. No matter how long it takes: In March, rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin issued his annual report in which he said the greatest problem in the country's "unsatisfactory" human rights climate is "the arbitrariness of the law enforcement organs."

Sometimes, it is true, law enforcement in Russia seems "arbitrary"; but sometimes a pattern seems to emerge from the haze. In Magnitsky's case, the cynical might wonder why police searched his office and hoovered out reams of documents protected by attorney-client privilege. You see, one of Magnitsky's clients is the embattled investment firm Hermitage Capital. As Jamison Firestone, co-founder and head of Firestone Duncan, told RFE/RL: "The situation is very interesting. There is the company Hermitage Capital. There are several criminal cases pending against its management. The management of Hermitage Capital hired three different legal firms in Russia to defend its interests. And every legal professional or lawyer who has taken a Heritage case has either been arrested or charged or has a warrant issued for his arrest. This is not chance. Our company can now neither defend Hermitage nor work with the fund. Because all the members of our team who had anything to do with it are either in jail or in hiding."

In September, the International Bar Association issued a statement condemning the harassment of Hermitage defense lawyers. "When government agents interfere with the work of lawyers, it is not only the legal profession that is threatened, but the overall legal order in the state," IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis noted. Sounds like a recipe for legal nihilism!

Tomorrow President Medvedev is expected to address a national congress of judges. I wonder if he'll mention Magnitsky. Or Boris Kuznetsov.

Or maybe he'll stick to his old recipes for combating legal nihilism. In January, he told a gathering of the Association of Lawyers of Russia that part of the answer could be "a system of legal enlightenment" that could include involving "schools, clubs, and the mass media." Since then, the association -- with money from Gazprom-Media, Medvedev's old buddies -- has launched the national Zakon-TV (see: "Lawyers Association Experiences Rapid Growth"). I haven't seen it yet, but it I'm not sure it is doing much good so far.

-- Robert Coalson

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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