Russia’s posthumous trial of lawyer shows corruption is still rife

The Guardian

This week it was announced that the Russian authorities are planning to resubmit a tax evasion case for trial. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think, except for the fact that the defendant is deceased.

The accused in question is Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison cell in November 2009. Magnitsky was initially detained in November 2008 on suspicion of assisting one of his clients – UK-based investment fund Hermitage Capital – evade about $17.4m in taxes. Although the original allegations were lodged against Hermitage, during the investigation Magnitsky discovered what he believed to be a cover-up for Russian state officials to embezzle an estimated $230m from the Russian treasury.

Subsequently, Magnitsky testified against two senior officials in the interior ministry, Lt Col Artyom Kuznetsov and Major Pavel Karpov, and accused them of tax fraud. Shortly after, Magnitsky himself was arrested and detained in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. It is thought that the charges placed against him were designed to make him back down and sweep the whole embezzlement scandal under the carpet. However, Magnitsky never made it to trial. After a year of being detained, he died in a prison cell aged 37 and the exact causes and circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.

It was in August last year when it was originally revealed that the Russian authorities were contemplating resubmitting Magnitsky’s case to trial, following a ruling by the Russian constitutional court that stipulated that the death of a defendant should not automatically render an investigation closed. In November, the Moscow district court rejected an appeal by Magnitsky’s mother, Natalia Magnitiskaya, to close the case against her son.

In the same way that the Russian authorities tried to silence Magnitsky before his untimely death, they are using the threat of reopening the case as an intimidation tactic to discourage Magnitsky’s family from pursuing prosecution of the police and tax officials involved in his imprisonment. If the case does go ahead, it is believed that it will be the first posthumous trial in Russian history.

Magnitsky’s death attracted huge international attention and put the spotlight on the dire pre-trial prison conditions, the vagaries of the Russian court system and the corruption inherent in Russian society. Although the Russian authorities may not realise it, the reopening of his case highlights how little has changed in Russia when it comes to corruption and bribery.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wrote about Russia’s need to combat corruption. As Mr Putin’s article indicates, Russians are well aware that corruption is a huge problem. Russia is listed as one of the most corrupt places in the world to do business, according to the Bribe Payers Index, while in the latest Doing Business survey conducted by the World Bank, Russia is ranked 120th out of 183 countries – slipping four places from last year.

Nonetheless, it scarcely seems necessary to mention how ironic Putin’s article is given the huge demonstrations that continue to take place across Russia, protesting against alleged vote-rigging by his party during the December elections.

The incumbent president, Dmitry Medvedev, has been seen to have made some positive changes during his tenure. Not long after Magnitsky’s death, he signed a new law to prevent the persecution of lawyers and judges in high-profile proceedings. In April 2010, two days after the assassination of senior Russian judge Eduard Chuvashov, Medvedev signed an order on a revised anti-corruption plan. Then in May last year, he signed a bill to dramatically raise fines against officials for giving or taking bribes.

However, the figures don’t lie: in January 2012, Russia’s own interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev admitted that the number of corruption-related crimes and acts of bribery involving senior government officials had doubled in 2010. Evidently the reforms have had little impact so far.

Away from Russia, the US government has helped Magnitsky’s plight by banning Russian officials linked to Magnitsky’s death from travelling to America. However, while countries including the UK continue to abstain from officially imposing a similar ban, there is still much more that western governments can do to help bring justice to Magnitsky’s name.

He is by no means the only lawyer to have suffered at the hands of the Russian authorities, but as long as they are free to pursue him, no lawyer in Russia, whether dead or alive, is safe. быстрые займы онлайн микрозайм онлайн https://zp-pdl.com/fast-and-easy-payday-loans-online.php https://zp-pdl.com/get-a-next-business-day-payday-loan.php займы онлайн на карту срочно

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