Russia puts dead lawyer on trial

19 February 2013 - 02:14 By Reuters
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

A Russian court yesterday pressed ahead with plans to try a dead whistle-blowing lawyer on tax evasion charges, despite an attempt by relatives to block a trial they say is inhuman and politically motivated.

Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 after complaining he was denied treatment as his health declined in jail, prompting the US last year to bar entry to Russians accused of involvement in his death or human rights abuses.

Critics say the posthumous trial, which the state says is possible under legal changes made last year, is a cynical act by President Vladimir Putin to hit back at the US.

Magnitsky's lawyers refuse to defend him in the trial and boycotted a pre-trial hearing at the Tverskoi Court in Moscow yesterday.

"Exploitation of the decree ordering the post-mortem prosecution of my son by the Russian Federation's Prosecutor General ... is illegal," Magnitsky's mother, Natalya, said in a statement read out by the family's lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov.

"From the civil point of view, it is cynical and inhuman," she said.

Court spokesman Alexandra Berezina said a pre-trial hearing due yesterday had been postponed until March 4 to give the defence lawyer appointed by the state time to prepare.

Putin, back in the presidency since May despite the biggest protests since he rose to power in 2000, has dismissed international criticism over the case, saying in December that Magnitsky had died of a heart attack at the age of 37.

But the Kremlin's own human rights council has voiced suspicions he was beaten to death.