1 December 2015 – Last week, two senior Russian Interior Ministry officials, Sergei Petryashov (https://35.mvd.ru/news/item/2577609/) and Artem Ranchenkov (http://artprotest.org/cgi-bin/news.pl?&id=5739), along with Cyprus police officers raided the offices of the Hermitage Fund’s corporate law firm in Cyprus.
They interrogated employees and left a 41-point request for corporate documents.
The raid in Nicosia was conducted under the legal assistance request to Cyprus from Russia, where the Russian Interior Ministry is advancing new posthumous criminal proceedings against Sergei Magnitsky (pictured) and in absentia against William Browder, leader of ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky’ campaign, proceedings which have been denounced as improper and politically motivated by the Council of Europe, European Union, OSCE, and INTERPOL.
“It is remarkable that the law enforcement authorities in Cyprus, a country that is a member of the European Union, would agree to become directly involved in assisting the Russian officials in a case that has been universally condemned around the world,” said a representative of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign.
The Cyprus raid was authorised by the Cyprus Ministry of Justice, and Cyprus police officers Lieutenant Chr. Christodoulou and Christina Papaavraam. These same Cypriot police officers are also in charge of investigating Hermitage’s complaints about the role of Cyprus in the $230 million fraud scheme and laundering of proceeds through Cyprus, in which Russian Interior Ministry had been implicated. The proceedings in Cyprus became necessary after Russian government protected the perpetrators, and exonerated all its officials from responsibility.
“Instead of prosecuting those responsible for the massive Russian fraud, which also victimised Cypriot companies of the Hermitage Fund, and for the laundering of the millions in fraud proceeds through Cyprus, Cypriot government bodies have now joined corrupt Russian officials in the cover up of the fraud,” said a representative of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign.
“The same Cyprus officials who are investigating the criminal complaints from Hermitage about the fraud and the complicity of the Russian Interior Ministry, are now helping Russian officials to attack the victim of the crime outside of Russia,” said a representative of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign.
In addition to their participation in the Cyprus raid, Russian Interior Ministry officials Petryashov and Ranchenkov have blocked efforts of Sergei Magnitsky’s mother to challenge the posthumous proceedings and identify those who benefited from her son’s death.
Under the new Russian proceedings, investigators Petryashov and Ranchenkov are accusing Sergei Magnitsky and William Browder of organizing the $230 million fraud that the two had in fact uncovered and reported, and have refused all applications from Sergei Magnitsky’s mother who is seeking justice for her murdered son.
In particular, they refused her requests to review charges, update her on the progress of the investigation, and disclose evidence on which her son is posthumously named a perpetrator of the $230 million fraud he had uncovered, finding that she has “no rights to access the documents or take their copies.”
Russian investigator Artem Ranchenkov was previously an investigator in the Pussy Riot case.
Since 2007, when Hermitage discovered the fraud against its three Russian and two Cypriot companies, it has filed criminal complaints seeking the investigation of the role of Russian government officials in the fraud. The criminal complaints were filed in Russia on 3 December 2007, and in Cyprus on 5 June 2008. The Russian government responded by exonerating all its officials, and mounting an attack on Hermitage’s Russian lawyers. One of them – Sergei Magnitsky – was falsely arrested, tortured for 358 days in detention, and ultimately killed in Russian police custody in November 2009.
Given the impunity in Russia, Hermitage started the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky” movement, to identify those responsible and benefiting from his death, seeking international investigations by law enforcement authorities around the world, and the imposition of personalised sanctions on them.
As a result of the global campaigning, in December 2012, the US Congress passed a law, Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposes visa and financial sanctions on those involved in the cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s ill-treatment and death, and the criminal conspiracy he had uncovered.
In 2013, the US Department of Justice filed a civil forfeiture and money laundering complaint in relation to multi-million dollar properties in New York bought by companies owned by the son of ex Minister of Transportation of the Moscow Region, with allegedly comingled proceeds of the $230 million fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky.
In 2011, the Swiss General Prosecutor opened a money laundering investigation in response to an application from Hermitage, who was recognized as plaintiff, and froze multi-million dollar assets belonging to relatives of Russian government officials, some of whom purchased high-end real estate in Dubai using funds from Swiss accounts suspected to be connected to the $230 million fraud.
Russian authorities have retaliated by seeking assistance from foreign countries and from INTERPOL, the international police organisation, to seek the arrest of the leaders of the Magnitsky Justice campaign abroad, including William Browder.
The Council of Europe has issued two definitive reports on the Hermitage and Magnitsky case, finding that the Russian proceedings against them were politically-motivated, discriminatory, and abusive, and as such legal assistance to Russia must be refused by member states.
The UK authorities, who have received Russian legal assistance requests, have refused them as contrary to UK’s public policy. INTERPOL has also refused the Russian requests in relation to William Browder, finding them to be predominantly political and contrary to INTERPOL’s Constitution.
“In contrast to other countries and international bodies, Cyprus seems to be wilfully ignoring the international condemnation of this case and working directly with the Russian perpetrators to go after their victims abroad,” said a Magnitsky Justice campaigner.
Under Article 12 of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Russia and Cyprus, Cyprus can refuse the provision of legal assistance to Russia where it contradicts fundamental public policy principles.
“Cyprus is a member of Council of Europe, and a signatory to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters which contains safeguards for refusing legal assistance in politically-motivated cases, and it should be urged to do so now”, said a representative of Justice for Sergei Magnitsky campaign.
This is the second time this month that the Cypriot authorities have cooperated with the Russian authorities on politically motivated cases. Earlier this month, Natalia Konovalova, a former associate of a Yukos Oil subsidiary, was extradited from Cyprus to Russia to face politically motivated conviction in connection with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case dating from some ten years ago.
Assistance by national judicial authorities in politically-motivated criminal cases breaches a set of international conventions, including the UN Human Rights Convention and the European Human Rights Convention.
For more information please contact: Katie Fisher
You can also visit: www.lawandorderinrussia.org
Image source: www.theguardian.com
Text source: Katie Fisher