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Russia closes investigation into whistleblower's death

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has closed an investigation into the death in custody of a whistleblower lawyer because it has found no evidence of foul play, federal investigators said on Tuesday.

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion and fraud that were similar to accusations he had made against police and tax officials. The case has damaged ties between Russia and the United States.

No one has been held accountable for Magnitsky's death at the age of 37. The Kremlin's own human rights council has said he was probably beaten to death in detention, but President Vladimir Putin says he died of heart failure.

"In the course of the investigation of the criminal case, no objective facts have been established regarding a crime in relation to Sergei Magnitsky," a statement from the Investigative Committee said.

"A decision has been taken to end the criminal case because of the absence of a crime."

A Russian court is trying Magnitsky posthumously in a case which critics say the Kremlin is pursuing to discredit his allegations against police and tax officials, but the Kremlin denies having any influence over Russian courts.

The decision to halt the investigation into Magnitsky's death is likely to dismay human rights activists and renew criticism of the legal system in Russia.

The United States passed legislation last year which is intended to bar visas for Russians accused of involvement in Magnitsky's case and freeze the assets they hold in the United States. Russia responded with legislation to punish Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130319/russia-closes-investigation-whistleblowers-death