Trial for Russian whistle-blower who died in custody

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A WHISTLE-BLOWING Russian lawyer whose death in custody became a symbol of rights abuses and strained relations with the United States will go on posthumous trial today in what relatives say is revenge by the Kremlin.

Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in pre-trial custody in 2009, is being prosecuted for defrauding the state in what will be the first time Russia has ever tried a dead person, a development Amnesty International says sets a “dangerous precedent”.

Magnitsky had been jailed after accusing police and tax officials of multimillion dollar tax fraud. His employer, London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital, says the charges against him were a reprisal and he was murdered, and the Kremlin’s own human rights council aired suspicions he was beaten to death.

The circumstances of his demise led the US last year to bar entry to Russians accused of involvement in his case or in other rights abuses. Critics say the trial – more than three years after he died and despite pleas by relatives to drop the case – is an attempt by president Vladimir Putin’s government to hit back at Washington

“It’s inhuman to try a dead man. If I take part in this circus, I become an accomplice to this,” Magnitsky’s mother Natalya said. “I won’t take part in the hearings.”

Russia took the highly unusual step of reopening the investigation against Magnitsky in 2011, as international criticism of Russia over his death mounted.

“First they killed him, now they are dancing on his grave,” said a lawyer for Magnitsky’s family, Nikolai Gorokhov.