MOSCOW, January 28 (RIA Novosti) – A Moscow court had to postpone a preliminary hearing in the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky on Monday, following a boycott from his relatives.
The court had to appoint a defense attorney to represent Magnitsky, a lawyer with Hermitage Capital who died from a lack of medical care in custody in November 2009, after his mother and lawyers refused to take part in Monday’s hearing.
“Today’s preliminary hearing was postponed till February 18, 11 a.m.,” because Magnitsky’s representatives didn’t show up, court spokeswoman Alexandra Berezina told journalists, the RAPSI news agency reported. In order to preserve the principle of equality in the trial, the judge appointed the defense, she said.
Amnesty International criticized the trial as “Kafkaesque,” saying Russian prosecutors violated a fundamental right of a defendant to represent himself in person.
Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008 on tax evasion charges, after he exposed what he believed was a $230 million tax fraud scheme implemented by Russian officials. Suffering from serious health problems, he died untreated of heart failure at Moscow’s prison hospital. He was 37 years old.
An independent investigation ordered by the Kremlin’s human rights council unveiled that he had been beaten with batons shortly before his death. The only prison official who faced trial over his death was acquitted in December.
The case against Magnitsky was closed after his death, but later reopened after the Constitutional Court ruled in 2011 that if a suspect or defendant dies before the trial is over, their relatives have the legal right to ask that the investigation be completed. The ruling was supposed to help those insisting on the rehabilitation of their late close ones.
Magnitsky’s mother, Natalya, has repeatedly maintained that she is against the reopening of the case against her son, but to no avail.
“The Russian authorities’ intention to proceed with the criminal prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky violates his fundamental rights even in death, in particular the right to defend himself in person,” John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director of the London-based Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Magnitsky and his former boss, Hermitage Capital head William Browder, are accused of evading 522 million rubles ($17 million) in taxes. Browder, who is currently in London, has denied any wrongdoing and refused to show up at the Moscow court. The British authorities also refused to cooperate with the Russian investigators on the case.
Russia has been widely criticized for Magnitsky’s death and its failure to prosecute officials he tried to expose. US lawmakers passed legislation named after the late lawyer – the so-called Magnitsky Act – that imposes sanctions against Russians accused of partaking in his demise and other human rights abuses.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president in 2008 and named the battle against “legal nihilism” a priority of his four-year term, defended Magnitsky’s prosecution in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Davos last week. Magnitsky was “not a truth-seeker,” Medvedev said. “He was a corporate lawyer or accountant, and defended the interests of the people who hired him,” Medvedev said.