Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Russian prisons 'to blame' for lawyer Magnitsky's death

Russian prison. File photo
Ill-treatment can be a factor when prisoners die in custody

A senior Russian prison official has said the jail service bears partial responsibility for the death of a Russian lawyer in custody, reports say.

The lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who had been working on behalf of a western investment fund, was awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion.

He died last week from what officials say was acute heart failure.

His colleagues say he was held in appalling conditions and was denied essential medical treatment.

The deputy director of the prison service, Alexander Smirnov, was quoted as saying by Russian media that there were "visible violations on our part" in Mr Magnitsky's treatment.

"We are not going to minimise our guilt in any way - it is definitely there," he said, without giving any further details.

Prison diary

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says the death has provoked an outcry both in Russia and abroad.

Mr Magnitsky was defending a British investment company, Hermitage Capital Management, which is involved in a legal battle with the authorities and which has been accused of avoiding taxes.

The company, once Russia's top foreign investor, alleges the prison authorities deliberately withheld crucial medical treatment because he refused to sign a confession admitting his role in its alleged tax evasion.

Mr Magnitsky wrote a diary about his time in prison saying he went without treatment for an acute disorder of the pancreas even though he was in excruciating pain.

On Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into the death.

Deaths in custody, sometimes involving ill-treatment, are not uncommon in Russia.

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