A Moscow court has acquitted prison doctor Dmitry Kratov charged with the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a case that has become a rallying point for human rights advocates and sparked escalating legislation in the US and Russia.
Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 after his pancreatitis went untreated, and an investigation by Russia’s presidential council on human rights concluded he was severely beaten and denied medical treatment.
Judge Tatyana Neverova said on Friday that she found no evidence that Kratov’s negligence could have caused the lawyer’s death.
The acquittal was widely expected after prosecutors earlier this week dropped their accusations, saying they had decided there was no connection between Kratov’s actions and Magnitsky’s death.
The case has angered both Russian activists and the West.
The US Congress earlier in December passed legislation in Magnitsky’s name calling for sanctions against officials deemed to be connected with human rights abuses.
The bill provoked retaliation from Moscow, including a measure barring Americans from adopting Russian children that President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign.
‘A sham trial’
Magnitsky, a lawyer for the Hermitage Capital fund, was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of tax evasion by the same Interior Ministry officials he accused of using false tax documents to steal $230 million from the state.
He died while in custody awaiting trial.
Government officials have dismissed calls to investigate police officials and the only official charged in his death was Kratov, who was deputy chief physician at the Butyrskaya prison where Magnitsky was held.
Kratov pleaded not guilty to charges of negligence leading to death, saying he was unable to ensure medical care for Magnitsky because of a shortage of staff.
The lawyer’s family has described the trial as a sham, maintaining that Kratov played a minor role in the man’s death and that officials responsible must face justice.
The lawyer’s mother and attorney did not attend the ruling in protest.
“Participation in this court hearing would have been humiliating for me,” Nataliya Magnitskaya said in a statement. “I understand that everything has been decided in advance and everything has been pre-determined.”