Dead Russian lawyer Magnitsky found guilty
By JIM HEINTZ
MOSCOW (AP) -- More than three years after he died in prison, whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion by a Moscow court on Wednesday.
The posthumous trial of Magnitsky was a macabre chapter in a case that ignited a high-emotion dispute between Russia and Washington that has included U.S. sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators, a ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and calls for the closure of Russian non-governmental organizations receiving American funding.
Magnitsky was a lawyer for US-born British investor William Browder when he alleged in 2008 that organized criminals colluded with corrupt Interior Ministry officials to claim a fraudulent $230 million tax rebate after illegally seizing subsidiaries of Browder's Hermitage Capital investment company.
He subsequently was arrested on tax evasion charges and died in prison in November 2009 of untreated pancreatitis at age 37.
His death prompted widespread criticism from human rights activists and the presidential human rights council found in 2011 that he had been beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment.
Browder, who has been banned from Russia since 2005 as a security threat, was also found guilty in absentia along with Magnitsky of evading some $17 million in taxes. In Russian courts, the reading of verdicts can stretch several hours and there was no immediate announcement of a sentence.
A statement from Hermitage Capital released shortly before the verdict said the trial showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin "is ready to sacrifice his international credibility to protect corrupt officials who murdered an innocent lawyer and stole $230 million from the Russian state."
Russia's top court ruled in 2011 that posthumous trials are allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones' names. But the after-death trial of Magnitsky also underlines Russia's strong resentment of foreign criticism of its human rights record.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)