Posthumous Trial of Magnitsky Opens

ReutersAttorneys representing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky sitting in front of an empty defendantsĺ cage in court Friday.

Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court began proceedings ináthe posthumous tax evasion trial against deceased lawyer Sergei Magnitsky onáFriday.

Prosecutors say Magnitsky, who died ináa pretrial detention facility iná2009, acted as anáaccomplice toáHermitage Capital andáthe fund’s director, William Browder, ináa tax evasion scheme that saw theámen steal $230 million fromáthe state budget. Theáallegations were made shortly after Magnitsky himself accused government officials ofástealing theá$230 million by using fake tax refunds.

Atáthe beginning of Friday’s hearing, Magnitsky’s defense lawyers asked the court toárecuse theáprosecutor, Mikhail Reznichenko, saying that he had given them limited time toáread 60 volumes ofácase materials.

Magnitsky’s defense lawyers also asked prosecutors toáclarify theáprocedure foráa trial against aádead person, requesting that theáTverskoi District Court submit aárequest forásuch clarification toáthe Constitutional Court, which earlier issued aádecree stating that posthumous trials violate theápresumption ofáinnocence until proven guilty.

“There was no reason foráthe investigation. I believe theácase was reopened only because ofáan incorrect understanding ofáthe decree ofáthe Constitutional Court,” said Nikolai Gerasimov, aálawyer foráMagnitsky.

"The prosecution has been working with the case for years, and they gave the defense two minutes. This proves that the prosecutor, either expressly or by implication, is interested in a certain outcome," Kirill Goncharov, a lawyer for Browder, said near the empty cell for the accused.

Theácourt turned down theádefense’s request, however, after state prosecutors noted that Magnitsky’s mother had requested theácase be reopened toáprove her son’s innocence inácourt, thus obligating theácourt toáreview theácase ináaccordance with anáearlier ruling byáthe Constitutional Court that posthumous trials were allowed toáexonerate theádeceased.

Ahead ofáa hearing intoáthe case ináFebruary, however, aádefense lawyer read aástatement fromáMagnitsky’s mother saying that she did not authorize anyone toárepresent her son andáthat theátrial against him was “unlawful.”

Critics have said theásole purpose ofáthe posthumous trial is toádiscredit Magnitsky, citing as evidence theáfact that theáinvestigation intoáhis death was prematurely closed despite theáKremlin human rights council finding that Magnitsky did not die under normal circumstances. Theácouncil said iná2011 that he was most likely pressured byáprison authorities over his testimony ináthe tax fraud case andáleft toádie ofápancreatitis ináan isolation cell.

Theátrial, ináwhich Browder also faces tax evasion charges ináabsentia, was postponed inálate February after defense lawyers requested more time toástudy case materials. The posthumous trial of Magnitsky will resume Wednesday.

The first day ended with a prosecutor reading the indictment. When he finished, the judge asked the defense to declare its position. Gerasimov replied, “Are we allowed to say anything at this trial? The very reason of our participation in it is questionable.”

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