Medics Charged in Vera Trifonova’s Death

Vera Trifonova, before and during her detention in Matrosskaya Tishina. Source: S-Pravdoy.ruIn the most recent development in the case of deceased Moscow businesswoman Vera Trifonova, investigators say that criminal charges have been filed against medical workers who operated on the woman shortly before her death.

Anatoly Bagmet, head of the investigative department of the Moscow Prosecutor’s Investigative Committee (Moscow SKP), told Interfax on June 11 that an unspecified number of medics are being charged with negligent homicide. They each face up to three years in prison if convicted.

Earlier in the day, Bagmet had stated that Trifonova’s death in the Matrosskaya Tishina pretrial detention facility this past April, which drew widespread comparisons to the scandalous death of Hermitage Capital Management lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was the result of a medical error. An investigation, he said, had found that medics had forgotten to remove a catheter from the woman’s leg after an operation, which created a blood clot that dislodged and killed her.

Vladimir Zherebenkov, Trifonova’s lawyer, maintains that his client died as a result of the fact that an investigator intentionally denied her access to necessary medical care. The catheter, he believes, was left in place intentionally by doctors in the Vladimirsky Moscow Regional Research Clinical Institute in order to perform the biweekly hemodialysis treatments Trifonova needed to survive.

The Moscow businesswoman was detained last December under suspicion of large-scale fraud and placed in Matrosskaya Tishina. Having been diagnosed with diabetes and chronic kidney failure, she was moved to a Moscow hospital where doctors confirmed that her condition could not be treated at the detention facility. Despite this, Investigator Sergei Pysin moved her back to Matrosskaya Tishina, then to another hospital, then back to the detention facility, where she died of acute heart failure on April 30.

As a result, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called for a federal investigation of Trifonova’s death. The presidium of the Moscow Regional Court ruled that a lower court decision prolonging her detention in Matrosskaya Tishina had been illegal, and the judge who made that ruling has now stepped down. Several penitentiary service officials were fired, and Investigator Pysin has been charged with neglect of duty.

Zherebenkov maintains, however, that Pysin’s crime was not neglect, but intentional acts that brought about the death of his client. He is currently pursuing a number of cases against figures that he claims had a hand in Trifonova’s death. Most recently on May 27, the lawyer filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General of Russia regarding the fact that one high-ranking Moscow SKP official was fired as a result of Trifonova’s death, but, weeks later, remains at his post.

Moreover, civil rights advocates at the anti-corruption organization Justice noted with concern that the new cause of death – a blood clot – had only been established six weeks after the initial one – acute heart failure. Other critics expressed skepticism as to why it took six weeks before medical experts noticed a catheter in the woman’s body.

After Sergei Magnitsky’s death, President Medvedev fired dozens of penitentiary service officials and signed a law meant to ensure that individuals detained on suspicion of economic crimes not be held in pretrial facilities like Matrosskaya Tishina. While government supporters hailed these measures, their effectiveness has been disputed. Human rights advocates argue that Trifonova’s death is evidence that “practically nothing serious was done after Magnitsky’s death.” In addition, jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky staged a one-day hunger strike last month to draw attention to the fact that judges were blatantly disregarding the new law on economic crimes. President Medvedev held a meeting with court officials days later to attempt to address the disparity – notable particularly because the law was introduced by Medvedev himself. Whatever changes might result from that discussion have yet to be seen.