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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activists Say Magnitsky Was Murdered

ReutersMoscow Helsinki Group member Valery Borshchyov talking during a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, April 22.

Human rights activists are calling on authorities to open a murder inquiry into the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention in November.

"Magnitsky died of systematic torture and not of negligence," Valery Borshchyov, of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told reporters Thursday.

The 37-year-old lawyer died in a detention center on Nov. 16 after officials repeatedly denied him medical treatment for illnesses that he developed while waiting nearly a year for his politically tainted tax trial to begin.

The Moscow branch of the Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation later that month but only accused unidentified officials of negligence and failure to provide medical aid.

In an open letter published on its web site, the Helsinki Group asked Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin to open a criminal case.

Borshchyov said he was still waiting for an answer from prosecutors after the group sent a report with complaints in December.

He argued that Magnitsky died because he refused to make a deal with the investigators who put him in prison. "This is a principle in our law enforcement system, that everyone is in cahoots," he said.

Veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said evidence suggested that the abuse was initiated by the same Interior Ministry officials whom Magnitsky had accused of embezzling $230 million of government funds.

Magnitsky was being held for allegedly organizing a tax-evasion scheme with William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital, once Russia’s largest foreign investment fund.

The charges were filed after Browder and Magnitsky linked Interior Ministry officials and Major General Anatoly Mikhalkin, head of the Moscow police’s tax crimes department, to the purported theft.

President Dmitry Medvedev in December fired Mikhalkin and 20 prison officials.

Alexeyeva said she would bring up the issue in Medvedev's human rights council, which convenes on Monday.