Who was Sergei Magnitsky?

Who Was Sergei MagnitskySergei Magnitsky was a lawyer and auditor who worked for the Moscow legal and audit firm, Firestone Duncan. He was married and a father of two.

Sergei was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1972, and emigrated with his family at the age of 9 to Southern Russia. As a child Sergei loved to read. On family vacations, while the rest of the family and friends would be splashing in the sea, Sergei would sit under a tree with a book. His studiousness was quickly recognized and at the age of 15, he won the Republican Physics and Mathematics Olympiad. When he was 18, he moved to Moscow and attended the prestigious Plekhanov Institute.

Sergei believed in the law. He knew right from wrong and he was willing to stand up for the things he believed in. When Sergei discovered that senior Interior Ministry officers working in collusion with tax officals and organised criminal groups had stolen the investment companies of his client, the Hermitage Fund, and then went on to rob the Russian treasury of 5.4 billion rubles ($230 million), the proper course of action was obvious to him. Sergei immediately decided to testify against those corrupt officials.

There are those who ask why Sergei put himself at risk by defending Hermitage and testifying against dangerous people. He did it because it was the right thing to do, because he believed in the rule of law in Russia and because he was disgusted with public officials who would abuse the powers of their office to harm the people they should be serving.

Sergei gave his testimony against the Interior Ministry officials, and just over a month later those same officers arrested him and threw him in detention. There, they subjected Sergei to tortuous and ultimately deadly conditions in an attempt to get Sergei to withdraw his testimony and instead incriminate himself and his client, Hermitage, in the very crimes he had uncovered and exposed!

Throughout his detention, these Interior Ministry officers made it clear to Sergei that things would be easier for him if he would stop calling attention to the theft of $230 million from the Russian treasury. Sergei’s position was simple: these officers are the true criminals, they should be sitting where he was and he was not going to help them hide their crime. If necessary, he would spend his life in pre-trial detention trying to expose what they had done.

On November 16, 2009, after a year enduring inhuman conditions in detention, after his health had completely broken down, after he had spent months in pain and after being denied life-saving medical treatment, Sergei died. On his final days, he experienced such terrible pain that he was put in a so called “medical” isolation ward over the weekend, but with no doctors or equipment. On the morning of Monday November 16th, he was so ill and in such excruciating pain that a doctor decided to move him to a to a facility where he could receive emergency medical treatment. However, investigators were reluctant to approve the move and they delayed his transfer again. He was ultimately transferred to another prison where treatment was again withheld. At about 8 pm, the officials, instead of providing medical assistance and saving his life, placed him in a straightjacket and locked him in an isolation cell where he was beaten by riot guards with rubber batons. One hour and eighteen minutes later, he was dead. This entire time an emergency medical team was stationed outside the door to the cell, but they were not permitted to enter.

Sergei was an extraordinary person. He was the kind of person Russia needs the most, and he was killed by the kind of people Russia needs the least.

Since his death,  a worldwide media, legal and legislative campaign to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky has been in place. Actions have included introducing motions, resolutions and legislation to the US Congress, the Canadian Parliament and parliaments across Europe to implement visa bans and freeze the economic assets of those who perpetrated the crimes which lead to Magnitsky death and against those who continue to cover up the what happened to Sergei Magnitsky.