Russia to try dead lawyer who suspected fraud

The trial of Sergei Magnitsky on tax evasion charges got underway after the judge rejected a challenge from a court-appointed defence lawyer who said the state had no legal right to prosecute a dead person without his family's consent.

Russia to try dead lawyer who suspected fraud

World Bulletin/News Desk

Russia starts trial of dead lawyer who suspected fraud Russia started the posthumous trial of a lawyer who died in custody after accusing state officials of fraud, putting a dead man in the dock in a move supporters said was politically motivated and illegal.

The trial of Sergei Magnitsky on tax evasion charges got underway after the judge rejected a challenge from a court-appointed defence lawyer who said the state had no legal right to prosecute a dead person without his family's consent.

Nobody has been held criminally responsible for Magnitsky's death in 2009, which underscored the dangers faced by Russians who challenge the authorities and deepened U.S. and European concern over human rights there.

The barred courtroom cage normally occupied by the defendant stood empty at a trial seen by President Vladimir Putin's critics as an attempt to discredit fraud accusations made by Magnitsky.

"It is illegal, it is blasphemy toward my son, and I do not believe in the courts," Magnitsky's mother, Natalya, said. She has refused to participate or hire a defence team in what lawyers say is the first posthumous trial in Russia.

Magnitsky, a lawyer who was working for Hermitage Capital Management, once one of the biggest investors in Russia, was arrested shortly after accusing Russian officials of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.

He died after nearly a year in jail during which family and former colleagues say he was mistreated and denied medical care in an effort to get him to confess to tax evasion and give evidence against Hermitage head William Browder.

"This is all probably controlled from the top," said Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for Magnitsky's mother.

"It is all aimed to ensure that nobody ever finds out how and why Sergei Magnitsky died. His death is connected to a unprecedented theft of money from the Russian budget," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

The Kremlin's own human rights council has said there was evidence suggesting Magnitsky was beaten to death, but Putin has dismissed allegations of torture or foul play and told the nation last year that he died of heart failure.

Browder, who is being tried in absentia on the same charges levelled against Magnitsky, blames the lawyer's death on the same police investigators and tax officials he gave evidence against shortly before his arrest.

Russia's federal Investigative Committee, which answers to Putin, on Friday denied any link between the posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky and his campaign to expose alleged fraud.

The United States adopted a law in December barring Russians implicated in Magnitsky's death and other suspected human rights violations from entering the country and freezing any assets they hold in the United States.

Russia retaliated with similar measures and also banned Americans from adopting Russian children, adding to tension that has increased since Putin returned to presidency last year after four years as prime minister.

He has frequently accused the United States of using human rights concerns as a pretext to meddle in Russia's affairs.

Prosecutors closed the case against Magnitsky after his death but reopened it in 2011, a step defence lawyers say is allowed only with the consent of relatives.

"There were no grounds for this prosecution to take place," court-appointed defence lawyer Nikolai Gerasimov said at the hearing at Tverskoi district court in central Moscow.

The judge rejected Gerasimov's request to refer the issue to Russia's Constitutional Court, and prosecutors began making their case before the judge adjourned the trial until Wednesday.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Mart 2013, 10:24

Muhammed Öylek

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