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Russia

Magnitsky Found Guilty In Posthumous Trial; Ex-Boss Also Convicted

A man holds a portrait of Sergei Magnitsky as he protests against police lawlessness in front of the Interior Ministry in Moscow in 2012.
A man holds a portrait of Sergei Magnitsky as he protests against police lawlessness in front of the Interior Ministry in Moscow in 2012.
By RFE/RL
A Moscow court has found late whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and his former boss guilty of tax evasion.

Magnitsky, who represented 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. The case against him was organized by some of the same officials he exposed.

Staying Away

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."

WATCH: The verdict on Sergei Magnitsky and William Browder is read aloud in court. 
Russian Lawyer Magnitsky Found Guilty Posthumouslyi
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July 11, 2013
A Russian court has found late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion in a posthumous trial. Magnitsky's boss at the Hermitage Capital investment fund, William Browder, was also found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. Magnitsky had been charged with tax evasion in 2008 after he exposed a $230 million tax scam involving Russian police and government officials. Less than a year later, he died in pretrial detention at age 37 after allegedly being beaten and denied medical treatment. (Reuters)

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, Browder said the guilty verdict against Magnitsky for tax evasion was "one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Josef Stalin."

Browder went on to praise his late lawyer, saying, "future generations of Russians will be naming streets and monuments after Sergei Magnitsky."

Beatings, Neglect

While in detention, Magnitsky was repeatedly denied medical care and allegedly mistreated.

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 the 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." 

Outcry Over Verdict

Lukin was far from alone in his criticism.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was "disappointed," and called the trial a "discredit to the effort of those who continue to seek justice in this case."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the trial was "a symbolic act that shows the level of human rights violations in Russia."

U.S. lawmakers who were instrumental in passing visa bans and financial sanctions against Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky's prosecution and death also decried the ruling.

In a statement, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin (Democrat-Maryland) said: "Such a verdict does no further harm to Sergei, though it must be torturous for his family and friends. What this does is continue the downward spiral of Russia’s reputation as a law-abiding state and member of the international community." 

Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told RFE/RL in a statement, "Today's conviction of Sergei Magnitsky -- three years after his death -- is nothing short of a message to Russia’s activist community of the repercussions of opposing the state."

U.S.-based rights watchdog Freedom House was one of several such organizations to blast the verdict.

"The Putin regime has sunk to new lows today," Freedom House President David Kramer said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, RFE/RL correspondent Richard Solash, Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and RIA Novosti

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