Monday 23 October 2017

Lawyer guilty from beyond the grave after 'show trial'

Sergei Magnitsky: died in jail three years ago
Sergei Magnitsky: died in jail three years ago

Tom Parfitt Moscow and Colin Freeman

Russia was accused yesterday of reverting to "Stalinist show trials" after a Moscow court passed a guilty verdict in the bizarre posthumous prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky, the crusading lawyer who died three years ago.

Mr Magnitsky, who exposed a massive tax scam involving corrupt Kremlin officials, died from untreated pancreatitis in a squalid Moscow jail cell in 2009, having being arrested by the officials he had accused.

For the past four months, a court in the Russian capital has been hearing tax evasion charges against him, in what critics say is a clumsy Kremlin campaign to discredit his whistleblowing activities.

Yesterday, amid a chorus of anger and ridicule from human rights groups, a judge at Tverskoy District Court read out the guilty verdict to an empty dock.

Also found guilty in absentia was Mr Magnitsky's British-American boss, Bill Browder, whose London-based investment firm, Hermitage Capital, was the victim of the original tax scam.

The court sentenced Mr Browder, who now lives in London, to nine years in jail, but conceded that it could take no further action against Mr Magnitsky as he was dead.

The outcome of the macabre trial prompted renewed calls for Britain to pass its own version of America's 'Magnitsky Law', in which a list of Kremlin officials suspected of involvement in the scam have been blacklisted from the US.

Britain is thought to be reluctant to follow suit for fear of jeopardising efforts to improve trade relations with Russia.

Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP who has led calls for such a law, said: "This sham court case was reminiscent of the worst days of Stalin's show trials. It shows the endemic corruption and cruelty of President Vladimir Putin's regime.

HENCHMEN

"I am still pushing for a British version of the Magnitsky Act to create a presumption against dictators' henchmen being allowed to waltz into Britain."

Mr Magnitsky (37) was brought in by Hermitage, which was one of Russia's biggest foreign investors, after corrupt tax officials raided its offices in 2007 and seized subsidiaries of the firm.

The officials allegedly used stolen company documents to claim some pounds £140m (€162.3m) illegally in tax rebates.

Known for his relish for tough cases, Mr Magnitsky compiled a detailed dossier of suspects, only to be arrested by the police he had accused.

Held for a year in freezing, rat-infested cells, he died in a pool of his own urine, having been denied repeated requests for medical attention. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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