MOSCOW, March 11 (RIA Novosti) – A Moscow court postponed on Monday a posthumous trial for late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 death in pre-trial detention triggered an international outcry against Russia’s justice system.
Magnitsky’s mother, his widow and their legal representatives have boycotted the trial, condemning what they called his posthumous prosecution. The court earlier appointed new lawyers to defend Magnitsky, who is charged with tax evasion.
On Monday, his appointed defense petitioned for a postponement of the hearing in order to properly study 60 volumes of documents relating to the case. The trial was put off until March 22.
Photos from the Moscow Tverskoi District Court on Monday showed a small overcrowded courtroom crammed with lawyers, prison guards, numerous reporters and an empty defendant’s cage.
Magnitsky’s co-defendant in the trial is his former boss William Browder, head of the Hermitage Capital Fund, who is based in Britain and has refused to attend the hearings. He will be tried in absentia.
Last week the Investigative Committee brought new charges against Browder, alleging his involvement in a scheme to illegally purchase Gazprom shares in 1999-2004.
Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 soon after he accused Russian officials of a $230 million fraud scheme. He died in a Moscow prison a year later after illnesses which were not treated. He was 37. An independent inquiry ordered by the Kremlin’s human rights council said that Magnitsky had been severely beaten shortly before his death, while the official investigation blamed it on a heart failure.
Magnitsky claimed Russian Interior Ministry and tax officials had illegally taken over Hermitage subsidiary companies and used them to defraud the state of millions of dollars in tax refunds. He claimed some of the people involved were the very same people who later arrested him. The Interior Ministry maintains Magnitsky and Browder were themselves involved in tax scams and fraud.
Browder, who was once the largest portfolio investor in Russia, last week described the latest charges as “absurd” and “hysterical.”
No-one has been punished in connection with Magnitsky’s death, which pitched Moscow into a diplomatic row with Washington.
Late last year, the White House passed the so-called Magnitsky Act, introducing a visa ban for those Russian officials accused of human rights abuses and implicated in the lawyer’s death, and freezing their US assets.
The posthumous trial against Magnitsky was made possible after Russia’s highest court ruled in 2011 that relatives of deceased suspects could seek to clear their loved ones’ names. The decision to go ahead with the trial was made despite objections from Magnitsky’s mother.