Switzerland Drops Magnitsky Case Probe, Plaintiff Claims Foul Play

Swiss authorities dropped on Tuesday a decade-long graft investigation linked to the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who uncovered the multi-million scandal and then died in a Moscow prison in 2009. 

Sergei MagnitskySergei Magnitsky (VOA)

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) released a statement saying it was closing its probe into whether Russian officials defrauded tax authorities at home and then laundered their proceeds in Switzerland.

This allegation was brought forward by Magnitsky’s client, businessman Bill Browder's investment fund Hermitage Capital.

“Based on its extensive enquiries, the OAG can now confirm that the investigation has not revealed any evidence that would justify charges being brought against anyone in Switzerland,” the statement said. 

In 2008, Magnitsky claimed that organized crime groups and Russian authorities conspired to use Browder’s Hermitage Capital Management to conduct tax fraud worth US$230 million, and launder the money in Swiss banks. 

Shortly after blowing the whistle on these fraud accusations, Magnitsky was arrested for tax evasion. He was allegedly mistreated and denied medical care while awaiting trial and died in prison in November 2009. 

After Magnitsky’s passing, Browder left Moscow and continued his effort to investigate the Russian tax fraud case and his lawyer’s death from abroad, alerting Swiss authorities about the case in 2011. While conducting the inquiry, Swiss officials seized $19.6 million in funds from suspicious bank accounts, owned by people the U.S. has already sanctioned.

The probe ended this week without any charges. All but $4.3 million of the frozen funds were released. 

“This is a stain on Switzerland,” Browder said in response. He asserts that political corruption silenced the case, and is allowing for these crimes to sit unpunished.

The former Swiss attorney general, Micheal Lauper, was accused of accepting gifts from Russian officials and holding off the record meetings with Russian authorities to discuss the Magnitsky affair. In 2018, he was spotted vacationing in Siberia with Russian Deputy Prosecutor General, Saak Karapetyan.

Browder connected this controversy with the insufficient results of the case in a tweet on Wednesday. “The collapse of the Swiss Magnitsky case comes amid accusations of bribery and political meddling at the highest levels of the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's office,” he wrote.

Browder plans to fight the decision--and question the OAG’s ability to honorably prosecute the case. He has until the end of July to submit his appeal.