A Russian court delayed by two weeks the start of the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. who died in prison, as his family said the case is “politically motivated” and boycotted the beginning of court hearings.
Magnitsky’s prosecution violates his constitutional rights and the family refuses to take part in the proceedings, their lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, said in a statement read out to reporters today outside the Moscow court holding the trial.
The Tverskoi District Court delayed the first hearing on March 4, the tribunal’s press service said. The trial had been set to open today with court-appointed lawyers for Magnitsky because his family has refused to mount a legal defense.
Magnitsky died in November 2009 at the age of 37 while in pre-trial 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 Magnitsky’s death and Moscow retaliating by barring American citizens from adopting Russian orphans.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who as president in 2008-2012 made the fight against corruption a priority, last month defended Magnitsky’s prosecution for tax evasion.
Magnitsky was “not a truth-seeker,” Medvedev said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Jan. 23 in Davos, Switzerland. “He was a corporate lawyer or accountant, and defended the interests of the people who hired him.”
Hermitage’s head, William Browder, is being tried in absentia on the same tax evasion charges as Magnitsky, and has denied any wrongdoing by either of them. 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.
The Prosecutor General’s Office said in November that Browder and Magnitsky are accused of evading taxes of 522 million rubles ($17 million). Browder, a British citizen, is refusing to take part in the proceedings and the U.K. authorities aren’t cooperating in the case, the prosecutor’s office said. The court has appointed state counsel for Magnitsky and Browder.