Magnitsky Found Guilty In Posthumous Trial; Ex-Boss Also Convicted
July 11, 2013
A Moscow court has found late whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and his former boss guilty of tax evasion.
Magnitsky, who worked for the Hermitage Capital investment fund, died in pretrial detention at age 37 after being allegedly beaten and denied medical treatment.
It is the first time Russia has put a dead man on trial, deepening concerns over human rights and the rule of law in the country.
Magnitsky was accused of tax evasion in 2008 after exposing a $230 million tax scam implicating Russian police and government officials.
Magnitsky's 11-month detention and his death in 2009 sparked an international outcry, with the United States imposing sanctions on Russian officials involved in the case.
A court-appointed lawyer represented Magnitsky during the trial because his family would not participate.
Dmitry Kharitonov, a lawyer representing Magnitsky's widow Natalya Zharikova, gave his reaction to the case in a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on July 11.
"As a lawyer who defended Sergei for one year, I consider [this trial] a farce," Kharitonov said. "We refused, on principle, to take any part in it."
After the verdict, state prosecutor Mikhail Reznichenko told journalists that the judge had "established the fact that Magnitsky was responsible for organizing tax evasion on an especially large scale with a group of people who conspired in advance [to commit] two episodes of criminal activity."
The court on July 11 also found the head of Hermitage Capital, William Browder, guilty of evading about $17 million in taxes.
"Browder is being sentenced to nine years of imprisonment in a colony of general regime and revocation of right to conduct business on the territory of Russia for three years," Judge Igor Alisov announced.
The U.S.-born British investor, who was tried in absentia, has spearheaded an international campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for Magnitsky's death.
Russia's options for jailing him, however, are limited.
Browder lives in Britain and Interpol has refused to include him on its international search list after dismissing the case against him as political.
In a statement issued on July 11, William Browder said the guilty verdict against Magnitsky for tax evasion is "one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin."
Browder went on to praise his late colleague said "future generations of Russians will be naming streets and monuments after Sergei Magnitsky."
While in detention, Magnitsky had said he was being mistreated and deliberately denied medical care.
The lawyer, who suffered from hepatitis, diabetes, and a heart condition, had accused prison officials of trying to make him confess to tax evasion and give evidence against Browder.
The Kremlin's human rights council, too, has cited evidence suggesting Magnitsky was beaten.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed allegations of abuse and insisted that the lawyer died of heart failure.
Russian authorities closed the tax evasion case against Magnitsky after his death, but reopened it in 2011 under a new law allowing posthumous trials.
The law formally intends to give relatives a chance to clear their loved ones' names.
The Magnitsky case's reopening, however, was condemned by human rights groups and denounced as illegal because authorities did not have the consent of his relatives.
Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin has also objected to trying people posthumously. Lukin said on July 11 that "there is an element of some pagan mentality in this."
With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and RIA Novosti
Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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