Moscow court begins with trial of dead lawyer

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A MOSCOW court has began proceedings against a Russian lawyer who died in jail three years ago.

A state-appointed defence lawyer tried to scuttle the posthumous trial of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky as the trial opened yesterday, saying the state had no right to prosecute a dead man without his family’s consent.

But the judge rejected the challenge, paving the way for a trial seen by president Vladimir Putin’s critics as politically motivated and intended to discredit fraud accusations made by Magnitsky, who died in 2009.

Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, once one of the biggest investors in Russia, was arrested shortly after accusing Russian officials of stealing £150 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds. He died after nearly a year in jail during which he said he was denied medical treatment. A Kremlin human rights council aired suspicions he was beaten to death, but Mr Putin has dismissed allegations of foul play.

America passed a law last year named after Magnitsky which allows sanctions against Russians considered to have violated human rights. Russia retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.

Magnitsky’s relatives have refused to take part in the trial, calling it inhuman and absurd, but the Moscow court has pushed ahead regardless.

“There were no grounds for this prosecution,” defence lawyer Nikolai Gerasimov told the court. The judge rejected his request to refer the issue to Russia’s Constitutional Court, and prosecutors began making their case before proceedings were adjourned until next week.