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Lawyer found guilty of tax evasion - four years after he died

Sergei Magnitsky died in prison in 2009 after he accused the Russian government of organising a tax scam – but was then charged with the crime he uncovered.

The empty cage in the Moscow courtroom during Magnitsky's trial
The empty cage in the Moscow courtroom during Magnitsky's trial
Image: AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

A COURT IN Moscow today convicted lawyer Sergei Magnitsky for tax evasion – despite his death in pre-trial detention in 2009 which became a symbol of prison abuses in Russia and strained ties with Washington.

Judge Igor Alisov of the Tverskoy District Court found Magnitsky guilty along with his former boss, the US-born British citizen William Browder, the head of the Hermitage Capital investment fund who was tried in absentia.

Browder’s sentence is expected to be announced later but the case against Magnitsky ends with his verdict as the authorities cannot take a case against a dead man any further.

The trial of a dead person is almost unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia, and has raised concerns that that judicial authorities continued to persecute Magnitsky because of the furore over his death.

An empty cage in the courthouse — where normally the defendant hears the verdict — symbolised the absence of the late Magnitsky and his co-accused Browder.

The mother of Sergei Magnitsky holds a portrait of the lawyer (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko/File)

“I did not doubt that the decision would look like this,” the lawyer for Magnitsky’s family Dmitry Kharitonov told the RAPSI legal news agency. “I know that he committed no crimes.”

Magnitsky had accused interior ministry officials of organising a $235-million (€180 million) tax scam, but was then charged with the very crimes he claimed to have uncovered.

He was placed under pre-trial detention in 2008 and died of untreated illnesses less than a year later at the age of 37.

Browder, who is now based in London, insists Magnitsky was tortured to death with beatings and the refusal of proper medical care.

His death led to one of the biggest Washington-Moscow rows in years with the US late last year passing the “Sergei Magnitsky Act” which imposed a visa ban and froze the assets of Russian officials implicated in the lawyer’s death.

The legislation infuriated Moscow, which in retaliation passed legislation prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children.

Russia’s Constitutional Court made it possible to try deceased people under a July 2011 ruling that allowed families of late defendants to push for their exoneration by the courts.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Designers Dolce & Gabanna get 20 months’ jail for tax evasion >

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