MOSCOW, July 11 (RIA Novosti) – A Moscow court on Thursday found deceased whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion, in the culmination of a high-profile case that prompted widespread international criticism of the Russian legal system.
Magnitsky, who worked as a tax lawyer for the British investment fund Hermitage Capital Management in Russia, was arrested in 2008 on tax evasion charges after exposing what he believed was a $230 million tax fraud carried out by Russian officials.
He died in disputed circumstances while in pretrial custody in 2009, but nevertheless was subsequently prosecuted on tax evasion and embezzlement charges.
Speaking to Russian legal news agency RAPSI after hearing the verdict, Magnitsky’s lawyer Dmitry Kharitonov said, “I never doubted this would be the verdict… I do not believe he was guilty. I know he did not commit any crime, and there was no proof to the contrary.”
Magnitsky’s former boss, Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder, a British citizen, was tried in absentia on charges of tax evasion and found guilty.
On July 3 a prosecutor asked the court to find Magnitsky guilty – but not to sentence the deceased lawyer. The prosecutor called for a nine-year prison sentence for Browder, who has maintained he is innocent.
On Thursday the court sentenced Browder to nine years in jail and banned him from doing business in Russia for three years, but did not issue a sentence for Magnistky as he died before the trial started.
Ahead of the verdict, Hermitage Capital sent out a press release saying that the charges against both men are illegitimate, that they anticipated a guilty verdict, and calling the proceedings a “show trial.”
Magnitsky’s death in custody, and the subsequent trial, drew criticism from lawmakers in the United States, Europe and the UK.
In December 2012 the United States adopted the Magnitsky Act, which slaps travel and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in Magnistky’s death, the case against him and other human rights abuses. The EU is reportedly discussing the introduction of similar measures.
British lawmakers have also slammed the trial as a retrograde move on Russia’s part. In April the UK’s Europe Minister said the trial is “at odds with efforts they [Russia] are making to demonstrate the independence of their judiciary, and to portray Russia as an attractive place for foreign investment.”
Updated with details of sentence for Browder