Russian trial of lawyer - who died

Posted: January 29, 2013

MOSCOW - Russia is preparing to put lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on trial, even though he died in 2009, an unusual twist in a case that has become a byword for Russian corruption and severely strained U.S. relations with Moscow.

Russia's top court ruled in August 2011 that posthumous trials were allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones' names. In Magnitsky's case, family members say they don't want another trial, yet prosecutors refiled charges anyway.

The move has outraged human-rights groups who see the whistleblower's situation as indicative of the rampant judicial abuse, skyrocketing graft, and blurred boundaries between the state and organized crime that have plagued Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

"The trial of a deceased person and the forcible involvement of his relatives," Amnesty International said in a recent statement, "is a dangerous precedent that would open a whole new chapter in Russia's worsening human rights record."

Magnitsky drew controversy in 2008 after claiming that an organized-crime group colluded with corrupt Interior Ministry officials to claim a $230 million tax rebate through illegally obtained subsidiaries of Hermitage Capital Management, the company of Magnitsky's then-client, London-based investor William Browder.

Those officials had him arrested and put in pretrial detention. Magnitsky and Browder were accused of $16.8 million tax evasion.

A year later, Magnitsky, 37, died in jail of pancreatitis, after what supporters say was systematic torture. Russia's presidential human-rights council found in July 2011 that Magnitsky had been repeatedly beaten and denied medical treatment.

A Moscow court on Monday set hearings for Feb. 18. Magnitsky's mother, Nataliya Magnitskaya, said she had no faith the officials who she said were complicit in her son's death could give him a fair trial.

"What are they going to say? 'We're guilty, and we should be punished?' It's obvious," she said, "what's going to happen."

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