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Medvedev Admits Lawyer Died From 'Criminal Actions'

Russian Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

Russian Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has admitted the death in prison of a Russian lawyer who accused officials of corruption was the result of "criminal actions."

Medvedev said the case of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in November 2009 after nearly a year in Russian prisons, was a "sad one."

"Magnitsky's case is a very sad one," Medvedev said. "Ailing people shouldn't die in prison. If they fall ill, they must be taken out for treatment before a court decides their fate."

Medvedev made his remarks at a meeting with top Russian human rights officials in the southern city of Nalchik, the hometown of Magnitsky, who worked for Russia's top equity fund, Hermitage Capital.

He was arrested by Interior Ministry officials and charged with tax evasion after accusing Interior Ministry officials of using false tax papers to steal $230 million from the state.

In a report, the human rights officials rejected claims by Russian investigators who on July 4 put the blame for Magnitsky's death solely with medics.

Valery Borshchev, one of the authors of the report, told Reuters that the panel concluded that Magnitsky died of a beating.

"The lack of medical care -- hindering medical care -- which was a violation of the right to live, are obvious in this case and the medics should be punished for this," Borshchev said.

"But the decisive thing was the beating of Magnitsky by the prison warders. I don't think that the prison warders wanted to kill him, I don't think it was their intention. I think they were following an order, this is our suggestion, but he died because of his weakened health and acute condition caused by his illness," he added.

Yelena Panfilova, another author of the report, said the official Russian investigation was tainted because people taking part in it were involved in the crimes that Magnitsky was investigating.

"Either personal interest or negligence is involved is one or the other," said Panfilova in Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria in the volatile North Caucasus.

The death of the 37-year-old Magnitsky scared foreign investors and sparked an international outcry.

The parliament in the Netherlands has voted to request the government impose visa restrictions on Russian officials connected with Magnitsky's death.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on July 5 called the Dutch move "unacceptable."

The United States is said to be considering similar action.

compiled from agency reports