Russia Tries to Prosecute a Dead Whistle-Blower

New York Times

Russia took the unusual step of attempting to put a dead man on trial Monday, when it tried to open posthumous proceedings against Sergei L. Magnitsky, the whistle-blowing lawyer who died three years ago in a Moscow jail cell.

The effort to prosecute Mr. Magnitsky — which was postponed when Mr. Magnitsky’s legal team refused to participate — stoked tensions in a case that has already damaged Russia’s image abroad and strained relations with the United States.

Mr. Magnitsky was 37 when he died in a Russian jail, where he had been held for nearly a year. The authorities said he was detained on tax evasion charges and died of a heart attack. His advocates say that he was jailed for investigating hundreds of millions of dollars possibly taken by the authorities in a fraudulent tax case, and that he was beaten and denied medical care.

Last month, the United States Congress passed a law barring anyone linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s imprisonment or the initial fraud from entering the United States. In retaliation, Russia’s Parliament in December prohibited Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

As expected, the empty-chair prosecution drew an immediate rebuke. Critics said that it was an attempt to intimidate Mr. Magnitsky’s family members, and that it was a clear indication of rising prosecutorial overzealousness under President Vladimir V. Putin.

In the past year amid political protests, critics note, Russian courts have tried members of a punk band, Pussy Riot, sending two of its members to prison for an anti-Putin performance in a prominent Moscow cathedral; dozens of street protesters; and the American singer Madonna for a performance in St. Petersburg over the summer that officials said violated a local law against propagandizing homosexual behavior. The case was thrown out.

In Monday’s hearing, it was unclear who or what, exactly, went on trial. Mr. Magnitsky’s co-defendant, William F. Browder, the manager of the Hermitage Capital hedge fund, has been barred from entering Russia since 2005, so also did not appear in court.

The hearing was of a type in Russian practice that indicates that the police consider their work complete, and that the case can go to trial, Aleksandra V. Bereznina, a spokeswoman for Tverskoi Regional Court, said in an interview.

Judge Igor B. Alisov promptly postponed the trial because the defendants did not appear in the courtroom — as expected — but neither did lawyers representing their interests.

Posthumous criminal cases are rare in international practice, most often allowed only when relatives want to clear the name of a suspect, and rarely at the behest of the police, criminal law experts say. When a suspect dies, the question of guilt or innocence is usually rendered moot.

“All questions about investigating and charging of suspects, whoever it may be, alive or maybe not alive or something else, that is up to the police,” Ms. Bereznina said. “The court just looks at the case and the court just decides, what evidence is there?

“It can decide to proceed, to convict or to acquit.”

The hearing took place in a closed courtroom. The defendants’ chairs were unoccupied, Ms. Bereznina said. Mr. Browder and relatives of Mr. Magnitsky have said they will boycott the proceedings.

As Congress debated its punitive law against Russia, the police in Russia reopened the criminal case against Mr. Magnitsky last February, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name, in effect to defend his reputation. Mr. Browder maintains that the case is instead intended to intimidate Mr. Magnitsky’s family and discourage them from pressing for prosecutions in his death.

Judge Alisov ordered a delay of the start of the trial until Feb. 18 so the Moscow bar association could appoint public defenders for the dead man and his long absent co-defendant. займы на карту unshaven girls https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php https://zp-pdl.com/online-payday-loans-in-america.php hairy girl

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