Trial of dead Russia lawyer Sergei Magnitsky delayed

Sergei Magnitsky Critics of the trial say Sergei Magnitsky, 37, was a whistleblower who uncovered corruption

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The trial of a dead Russian lawyer has been delayed, amid criticism from the United States and European Parliament.

Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial detention in 2009, is accused of helping the investment fund Hermitage Capital evade $17.4m (£11.7m) in taxes.

He was arrested after testifying that interior ministry officials had used the UK-based firm to embezzle $230m by filing false corporate tax returns.

It is said to be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history

Even in the Soviet period, no defendant was tried after death, according to Hermitage Capital.

But a recent Supreme Court ruling allowed the police to conduct posthumous investigations.

'Circus'

On Monday, a judge at the Tverskoi district court in Moscow opened the trial but swiftly adjourned the next hearing until 22 March to give the court-appointed defence lawyers more time to study the evidence.

Start Quote

It's inhuman to try a dead man... I won't take part in the hearings”

End Quote Natalya Magnitskaya Mother of Sergei Magnitsky

The lawyers had asked the judge to give them until 10 May to prepare, but the prosecution said that was too long.

Magnitsky's family and their lawyers refused to attend last week's pre-trial hearing saying the case was politically motivated.

Natalya Magnitskaya, his mother, told the Reuters news agency: "It's inhuman to try a dead man. If I take part in this circus, I become an accomplice to this. I won't take part in the hearings."

The European Parliament said the prosecution was "a violation of international and national laws and clearly shows the malfunctioning of the Russian criminal justice system".

Police reopened the case against Magnitsky last year, saying it would allow his relatives and supporters to clear his name.

Also to be tried in absentia is Bill Browder, the executive director of Hermitage Capital, who employed Magnitsky.

He is facing new fraud charges filed last week over dealings in shares for the Russian state gas firm, Gazprom.

Mr Browder says the charges are an "absurdity" and revenge for his campaign in the US for human rights legislation named after Magnitsky.

Beaten

Magnitsky had been an auditor at a Moscow law firm when he discovered what he said was a massive fraud by tax officials and police officers.

He was arrested in 2008 and died in custody the following year after developing pancreatitis that was left untreated. An investigation by Russia's presidential council on human rights also found that he had been severely beaten.

In December, a Moscow court acquitted a prison doctor accused of negligence over Magnitsky's death. Dmitry Kratov had argued that he was unable to ensure medical care because of a shortage of staff.

The case has strained relations between Russia and the US.

Last year, Washington passed the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials accused of involvement in his death.

In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

Amnesty International has warned that the trial would "open a whole new chapter in Russia's worsening human rights record".

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