A top European court ruled Tuesday that Russia's failure to provide adequate medical care to jailed lawyer Sergei Magnitsky could have led to his 2009 death, which sparked US and European sanctions. The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay Magnitsky's widow and mother $38,000 in damages, the AP reports. The Russian Justice Ministry said it is studying the ruling and whether to appeal. Magnitsky, an accountancy expert who worked for an international investment firm, alleged he had uncovered $230 million in tax fraud by Russian officials—and was then jailed, accused of tax evasion himself. He died after a year in pre-trial detention, at age 37, and a Russian court found him guilty of fraud four years later. A Russian presidential commission previously concluded that Magnitsky had been beaten and denied medical care, yet no one has been convicted in his death.
The European court said Russian authorities' handling of Magnitsky's pancreatitis and other medical problems were "manifestly inadequate" and "unreasonably put his life in danger." The court found Russia's handling of his detention, the investigation into his death, and his posthumous conviction all constituted violations of Magnitsky's rights. In a statement, the Russian Justice Ministry noted that the ruling does not oblige Russia to review the fraud verdict in Magnitsky's case, and that the court did not find that the lawyer's arrest and subsequent incarceration were unlawful. Still, Magnitsky's supporters welcomed the ruling and pledged to use it as a basis for further court actions and seizures of assets. Magnitsky worked in Russia for US-born financier Bill Browder and his London-based investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management. Browder said Tuesday's ruling is important as a way to heap pressure on more nations and the European Union to pass laws similar to the 2012 Magnitsky Act; per the BBC, the law allows the US to sanction Russians suspected of being involved in human rights violations. (Read more Sergei Magnitsky stories.)