Russia's top investigative body says it has dropped negligence charges against a doctor implicated in the prison death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The decision, made quietly last week, is the latest twist in a case that has become an international symbol of Russia’s troubling human rights and rule-of-law record.
State prosecutors said they have ended their investigation of Larisa Litvinova, the chief physician at Moscow’s infamous Butyrka prison, citing a recently approved two-year statute of limitations in such probes.
Negligence charges against the prison’s deputy chief, Dmitry Kratov, were not dropped.
The move has prompted anger from supporters of the late lawyer, including William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital, a Western investment fund that Magnitsky was representing when he died.
"It’s shocking," Browder said. "It’s clear that there is no intention of prosecuting anybody in this case, and it is very demoralizing for Sergei’s family and for his colleagues to watch this farce play itself out."
In 2008, Magnitsky implicated top officials from Russia’s Interior Ministry, Federal Tax Service, Federal Security Service, and other agencies in a $230 million scheme to defraud the government.
Officials whom Magnitsky had accused of taking part in the scheme soon initiated proceedings against the lawyer on tax evasion charges, leading to his arrest.
Magnitsky spent nearly a year in pre-trial detention, during which he was routinely denied medical care for pancreatitis and other ailments.
Shortly after Magnitsky’s death in 2009, an independent Russian oversight body found that investigators had pressured prison doctors, including Litvinova, to withhold medical treatment from Magnitsky in an effort to make him turn against his employer.
The Kremlin’s human rights body said last year that Magnitsky had been severely beaten by prison guards before his death.
To date, Litvinova and Kratov were the only two individuals to have been charged in the case, which supporters and human rights activists say was ordered from above.
Browder said the timing of this latest development was particularly disturbing.
"It is particularly shocking because they made this decision on what would have been Sergei’s 40th birthday, which was [April 8], and I think we are all sort of extremely upset and angry that they would essentially spit on his grave like this," he said.
Magnitsky’s family has accused authorities of delaying the probe into his death, which is set to expire later this month, and sheltering those who might have ordered the lawyer’s persecution.
In February, Russian officials said they planned to reopen an investigation of Magnitsky for possible fraud, which, according to Browder, would be the first posthumous prosecution in the country’s history.
A number of Western countries, including the United States, have barred officials connected to Magnitsky’s death from receiving visas.
With additional reporting by AP and "The New York Times"