Hermitage Capital Management was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia managing assets worth more than 4 billion dollars.
While the fund’s founder William Browder had initially supported Vladimir Putin, he found himself barred from entry to Russia in 2005 because he was a “threat to national security”.
In June 2007 dozens of police officers swooped down on the Moscow offices of Hermitage and its law firm, Firestone Duncan, confiscating tax documents and computers.
Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer in Firestone Duncan, who was a representative and legal consultant for William Browder in Moscow, was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, just days after accusing police investigators in a $230 million tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.
A probe into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment which could have saved his life. Rights activists pointed to multiple violations of the lawyer’s rights during his arrest and detention, including signs that he was beaten by prison guards hours before his death.
Magnitsky’s death generated international media attention and launched an investigation into allegations of abuse. William Browder is now campaigning around the world with a mission to make all those responsible for Magnitsky’s death face punishment. Members of the European Parliament’s communications delegation have called for banning the individuals allegedly involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky from entering the EU and they also seek to freeze their assets. At the same time, tensions are intensifying between Russia and the US as Moscow claims it will introduce a number of tough retaliatory measures if Washington passes the so-called Magnitsky List bill, potentially blacklisting several dozen Russian officials from entering to the United States.