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Russia Proceeds With Trial of Dead Hermitage Lawyer, Browder

A Moscow court opened proceedings in the tax-evasion trial of Hermitage Capital Management tax and legal adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009.

Russia ended its investigation last week into Magnitsky’s November 2009 death at age 37 in a Moscow jail, saying it found no sign he had suffered physical abuse while he was detained.

Tverskoi District Court Judge Igor Alisov opened the proceedings near an empty cage where defendants are usually kept. The court appointed lawyers for Magnitsky and Hermitage founder William Browder asked Alisov to replace the chief prosecutor in the case because he refused to give them enough time to study the case materials. Alisov denied the request.

In 2011, a human rights council under then-President Dmitry Medvedev called for officials to be prosecuted for Magnitsky’s death. The council said he was bludgeoned with rubber batons after being denied medical care during almost a year of pretrial detention on trumped-up tax evasion charges.

Magnitsky was in pretrial detention after alleging the biggest-known tax fraud in Russia, a theft of $230 million from the national treasury. The case sparked a diplomatic row, with the U.S. imposing sanctions on Russian officials accused of playing a role in the death and Moscow retaliating by barring American citizens from adopting Russian orphans.

Medvedev Support

Russia is “officially defending Sergei Magnitsky’s torturers and killers,” Hermitage Capital said in a March 19 statement. Magnitsky and Browder are accused of evading 522 million rubles ($17 million) of taxes, the Prosecutor General’s Office said Nov. 29.

Magnitsky was subject to no “special conditions” while in prison, Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its website last week. He died of cardiac failure and there is no evidence of torture or physical violence against him, it said.

Prime Minister Medvedev, who as president in 2008-2012 made fighting corruption a priority, in January defended Magnitsky’s prosecution for tax evasion.

Browder has denied any wrongdoing by either him or Magnitsky. He has lobbied for U.S. and European legislation targeting 60 Russian officials who he says are responsible for Magnitsky’s death with visa bans and asset freezes. Hermitage was once Russia’s biggest foreign equity investor.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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