Corruption and Death in Russia

Voice of America has published an important piece on the death of Hermitage lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the practice of medical blackmail in Russian prisons:

Magnitsky developed problems with his pancreas and gall bladder as a result of what his American business associate, Jamison Firestone, described to VOA as filthy prison conditions. They included a tiny cell with two other people, no hot water, a shower once a week, and a kitchen above a hole in the floor that served as a toilet.

Firestone says the denial of medical care resulted in a slow motion killing by Interior Ministry officials seeking to hide corruption Magnitsky helped expose. The Ministry is often referred to by its Russian abbreviation, MVD.

“The MVD increased pressure on Magnitsky by telling him he could nolonger have his medicines and by not giving him the operation – and hedied!” said Firestone.

The Moscow Prosecutor’s office announcedit will investigate Magnitsky’s death. But an office spokeswoman toldVOA she had no time to comment on Firestone’s allegations and askedthat we call back later. Her phone was put in fax mode for theremainder of the day.

An independent prisoner-rights activist inMoscow, Valeriy Borshov, says the law stipulates that seriously illpatients may be released on their own recognizance to get outsidemedical attention. But he says they are often denied the right.

Borshovsays investigators use the practice to pressure those underinvestigation and courts do not pay attention to their health.

Thedirector of Russia’s For Human Rights Organization, Lev Ponomarev, saysmedical attention has been withheld from other seriously ill inmates.They include Vasily Aleksanyan, a former executive of the now defunctYukos Oil Company, who needed cancer treatment in 2008.