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Dead Hermitage Lawyer’s Court-Named Attorney Asks to Quit Trial

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March 22 (Bloomberg) -- A court-appointed lawyer criticized the tax-evasion trial of Hermitage Capital Management tax and legal adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009, and asked to be removed from the case.

Tverskoi District Court Judge Igor Alisov rejected attorney Nikolai Gerasimov’s request today to step down on the basis that Magnitsky’s mother didn’t want to mount a defense.

“There’s no justification for pursuing the prosecution of Magnitsky,” Gerasimov told the court in Moscow, adding that he wanted the judge to reconsider “my presence in this case.”

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 his death and Moscow retaliating by barring American citizens from adopting Russian orphans.

Alisov also rejected two other demands by Gerasimov and the court-appointed lawyer for Hermitage founder William Browder, who’s on trial in absentia. They asked him to replace the chief prosecutor because he refused to give them enough time to study the case and for the Constitutional Court to review the case.

Browder has denied any wrongdoing by either himself 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.

‘Defending Killers’

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.

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.

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.

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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