Russia set to start posthumous trial of whistleblower Magnitsky

Sun Jan 27, 2013 6:24pm EST
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By Steve Gutterman and Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia prepared to put whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on trial more than three years after his death, with a preliminary hearing set for Monday in a move relatives and rights groups called politically motivated and a travesty of justice.

Magnitsky's death in a Moscow jail has harmed Russia's image abroad and badly strained relations with the United States.

His mother and her lawyer said they refused to participate.

"I think it is inhuman to try a dead man," Magnitsky's mother Natalya told Reuters by telephone. "This is not a court case but some kind of farce, and I will not take part in it."

Magnitsky was 37 when he died after 358 days in jail on suspicion of tax evasion and fraud, during which he said he was denied treatment as his health declined. The Kremlin's own human rights council aired suspicions he was beaten to death.

Russian authorities said he died of a heart attack, but his former employer, investment fund Hermitage Capital, says he was killed because he was investigating a $230 million theft by law enforcement and tax officials through fraudulent tax refunds.

Relatives and former colleagues including Hermitage owner William Browder, who also faces trial in absentia, say Magnitsky was investigated and jailed by some of the same mid-level officials he told authorities had defrauded the state.

Nobody has been convicted of any crime in connection with Magnitsky's death. One prison official was tried last year but prosecutors asked the court to clear him after Putin said Magnitsky had not been tortured, and the judge complied.   Continued...

A woman holds a placard with a portrait of Sergei Magnitsky during an unauthorised rally in central Moscow December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva