OCCRP Wins First Magnitsky Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism

Published: 17 November 2015

Roman Anin and Paul Radu

By Stella Roque

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has been honored in the very first Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards for “outstanding investigative journalism”.

The awards were given at a secret ceremony in London to honor the memory of the late Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who worked to investigate a large-scale tax fraud in Russia affecting the investment firm Hermitage Capital.

Magnitsky died in prison in 2009 in suspicious circumstances while working on the case. His death triggered a scandal that led to the creation in the United States of the Magnitsky Act to sanction Russian officials suspected of involvement.

Bill Browder, the co-founder of Hermitage Capital who was also involved in investigating the fraud case, told the Independent this week that his new Magnitsky Awards included nine prizes for politicians, NGOs and journalists who had done the most in the Magnitsky case.

In the future, he said, the awards would go to those who contributed significantly to the advancement of human rights in Russia.

OCCRP’s Paul Radu, executive director, and Novaya Gazeta's Roman Anin were there to accept the award.

“The work that OCCRP did in the Magnitsky case proves once again that corrupt officials and criminals can be stopped from doing business as usual,” said Radu.

“Sergei Magnitsky lost his life in exposing the corrupt and the powerful and OCCRP reporters such as Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan and others all across Eastern Europe are doing the same with great risk and danger for their families and their own lives.”

It was in 2008 that Browder and his staff uncovered evidence that he claimed showed that Russian state officials sanctioned a large-scale tax fraud scheme that robbed Hermitage of US$ 230 million.

Browder hired Magnitsky to trace the missing money and, despite signs that Russian police were involved in the scheme, Magnitsky chose to remain in Moscow.

Russian authorities arrested Magnitsky in November 2008 and he was held without trial for nearly a year.

Magnitsky fell ill but reportedly did not receive adequate medical treatment. Eight days before he would have had to be released if he was not to be put on trial, he died. Browder claims he received a voicemail the same day in which he could hear a man - presumed to be Magnitsky - being savagely beaten.

The story behind the fraud was investigated by OCCRP reporter Mihai Munteanu in partnership with Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta's Roman Anin and Bill Alpert, of financial magazine Barron’s.

Russian authorities claimed documents linked to the Magnitsky investigation had been lost but OCCRP reporters uncovered a criminal network of phantom companies laundering money for a wide variety of criminal organizations including Russian and Moldovan organized crime, the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel, Vietnamese Triads and those who stole Russia tax money in the Magnitsky case. The OCCRP dubbed the criminal conspiracy the "Proxy Platform".

Also among the winners of the new Magnitsky Awards were James O’Brien of British LBC Radio and Andrew Rettman of the EU Observer for “outstanding coverage of the Magnitsky case”.

The late Russian democracy campaigner Boris Nemtsov, murdered in Moscow earlier this year, was also honored.