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Russian Judge Resigns Amid Controversy Over Woman's Death In Detention

Vera Trifonova, who died in prison, before and after her arrest (undated)
Vera Trifonova, who died in prison, before and after her arrest (undated)
A Moscow judge has resigned after a court ruled her decision to extend the detention of a woman who later died in prison was illegal, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Judge Olga Makarova resigned on May 13, one day after a Moscow regional court concluded that keeping Vera Trifonova in jail until July 16 had been unlawful.

Trifonova, 53, died of heart failure in the medical ward of a Moscow pretrial detention center on April 30. The businesswoman suffered from severe diabetes and kidney problems.

Trifonova, the head of a real estate company, was arrested in December and charged with fraud. She was accused of offering to help two bankers gain seats in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, in return for some $1.5 million. Trifonova insisted she was innocent of the charges.

On May 5, several members of Russia's Public Chamber, a state oversight body, demanded that Makarova be stripped of her judgeship.

Trifonova's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told RFE/RL that the pretrial detention center at which Trifonova was held lacked the necessary medical equipment to treat her health problems.

"The [police] investigator is guilty, detention center head Fikret Tagiev, and Judge Makarova -- who authorized and three times prolonged the detention of Trifonova -- are all guilty," Zherebenkov said. "All of this occurred despite the fact that there was medical testimony made that said pretrial restrictions were not admissible...they killed her knowing there was medical testimony [against keeping her in detention]."

On May 5 Sergei Pysin, the lead investigator in Trifonova's fraud case, was charged by authorities with negligence. But Zherebenkov said this is not enough and wants him also charged with abuse of office because he knew of her medical conditions.

Sergei Magnitsky, an anticorruption lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, died in the same detention center on November 16. His death caused outrage in Russia and abroad.

Hermitage Capital Management CEO William Browder has been trying to prosecute those responsible for Magnitsky's death, and a U.S. congressman recently suggested that Washington revoke the visas of some 60 Russian officials he said are connected to Magnitsky's death.

In the aftermath of Magnitsky's death, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed 20 leading prison officials and called for an overhaul of the penal system. Moreover, he signed a law designed to reduce penalties for economic crimes.

Human rights activist Valery Borshov told RFE/RL that his organization has recently sent a letter to Medvedev, the prosecutor-general, and the head of the Supreme Court.

"In the letter we assert that no conclusions were drawn from Magnitsky's tragedy and this is exactly the reason why Trifonova's tragedy could happen," Borshov said.

Rights activist Aleksandr Brod, who is a member of the Public Chamber, noted the figures provided by the Prosecutor-General's Office who stated that more than 4,000 people had died in penitentiaries and some 500 in pretrial detention centers in Russia in 2009.

"[The prosecutor's office] does not give the reasons for the deaths, but it is very obvious that, among others, they are due to torture, abominable conditions, and abuse," Brod said.