‘Farcical and sinister’ trial of lawyer in tax fraud case who died in prison

The Times

A macabre new chapter in legal history will begin in Moscow today when the Russian authorities put a dead man on trial for tax evasion.

Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Natalya, said that the proceedings were immoral, illegal and designed to turn her son, a lawyer and anti-corruption whistleblower who died in prison three years ago, into a criminal.
Magnitsky’s co-accused, Bill Browder, a US-born British investor who was once one of the most vocal Western cheerleaders for the Putin Administration, said last night that the case would “bring Russia to an entirely new level of depravity; even during the worst moments of Stalin’s purges they never prosecuted dead people”.

Amnesty International has called the hearing — in a closed Moscow courtroom — “farcical but also deeply sinister”. According to Russian law, a criminal case can be restarted after a defendant’s death but usually only if the deceased’s relations are seeking his or her rehabilitation. Natalya Magnitskaya has written repeatedly to the authorities to say that neither she nor any of her son’s relations want the process to go ahead.

Last week Magnitsky’s brother-in-law was summoned for questioning by the Interior Ministry and then given a gag order. A scheduled pre-trial hearing in January was twice postponed because the family refused to recognise the case. The State has had to find its own defence lawyers as well as a prosecution team.

It is still not clear what format the trial will take after today’s legal arguments are heard, whether there will be two empty chairs for the defendants [Mr Browder is also absent, having been banned from Russia since 2005], and what sort of sentence the judge might impose on a dead man. Six years in prison is the maximum sentence for the crime with which both men are charged.

Since the Russian authorities reopened the case in 2011, Sergei Magnitsky’s name has become emblematic of the Kremlin’s relationship with the West. In December President Obama signed into law human rights legislation that has become known as “The Magnitsky Act”. It bars Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death from the US and gives Washington the power to freeze their US assets. President Putin retaliated with a law that banned American citizens from adopting Russian orphans. Since then the state-controlled Russian media has seethed with anti-American scare stories.

Mr Browder said today’s trial is intended to make it harder for European governments to introduce their own “Magnitsky Act” blacklists. His company, Hermitage Capital Management, was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia from the mid-1990s until his visa was suddenly revoked. The company then found itself the victim of a huge tax fraud.

Mr Browder hired Magnitsky, a lawyer with Firestone Duncan, the US company, to investigate and he concluded that Russian Interior Ministry officials had colluded with police. After testifying against several officers, Magnitsky, 37, was arrested and accused of the fraud that he had apparently exposed. He died in pre-trial detention on November 16, 2009. buy viagra online займы на карту срочно zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com займ на карту

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