Russia Plans to Retry Dead Lawyer in Tax Case

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Sergei Magnitsky

Andrew E. Kramer – February 7, 2012

The police in Russia plan to resubmit for trial a tax evasion case in which the primary defendant died in detention more than two years ago, his former employer said Tuesday.

The trial of the defendant, Sergei L. Magnitsky, would be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history, according to a statement by the former employer, Hermitage Capital. The death of Mr. Magnitsky, a lawyer, in November 2009 drew international criticism over Russia’s human rights record, especially after accusations arose that he had been denied proper medical care.

Sergei Magnitsky
Sergei L. Magnitsky

The State Department has barred officials linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s prosecutions from entering the United States. Parliaments in nine European countries are considering similar bans.

Police officials reopened the case against Mr. Magnitsky last summer, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name.

Relatives, though, said they had not asked for that, and executives at Hermitage said the motive was something else entirely: to vindicate the officials Mr. Magnitsky had accused of corruption.

Hermitage Capital’s executive director, William F. Browder, who lives in London, will be a co-defendant in the case; he will be tried in absentia, a procedure used only intermittently in the post-Soviet period but restored under a Russian law that took effect in 2006.

The statement from Hermitage said that even in the Soviet period, no defendant had been tried after death. But a Russian Supreme Court ruling last summer allowed the police to conduct posthumous investigations.

Calls to the press service of the Investigative Committee of the Interior Ministry, which is handling the case, were not answered on Tuesday.

Mr. Browder maintains that the posthumous case against Mr. Magnitsky, who died in pretrial detention when he was 37, is intended to intimidate his family and discourage them from pressing for the prosecution of the police and tax officials who they say orchestrated his imprisonment. A conviction of Mr. Magnitsky might also appear to vindicate the officials he had accused of wrongdoing.

The Hermitage statement said a police investigator had offered to drop the case in a letter to Mr. Magnitsky’s mother last week, but only if relatives stated that they had no “desire to protect the honor and dignity of the deceased.”

Mr. Browder said in the statement, “If the Russian Interior Ministry thinks that running a show trial against me and Sergei will stop our campaign for justice, they are dead wrong.”

Mr. Magnitsky was detained in 2008 on suspicion of helping Hermitage Capital evade $17.4 million in taxes. That accusation came after Mr. Magnitsky testified against Interior Ministry officials, saying they had used Hermitage companies to embezzle $230 million from the Russian Treasury by filing false corporate tax returns.

Mr. Magnitsky’s supporters say they believe that the prosecution was retaliatory, and that investigators assigned to his case, including individuals he had accused, denied him medical care before his death.

Original article on New York Times website