Diary: Russia to put British whistle-blower on trial... except he's dead

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The Independent Online

The Russians are defiantly sticking to their plan to have a trial with an empty dock. There will be two accused. One will be absent because he is a British businessman, banned from Russia from 2005. The other cannot be there, because he is dead. The dead man is Sergei Magnitsky, whose case is now an international cause célèbre. While he was working for Hermitage Capital, an investment fund run by the US-born British businessman, William Browder, he gathered evidence that 60 Russian officials had defrauded Russian taxpayers of £147million.

Other members of his legal team fled Russia after receiving threats, but Magnitsky stayed, was arrested in 2008, and died the following year, aged 37, from the ill treatment he had suffered in prison.

Last week, the Tory MP Dominic Raab successfully pushed through the Commons a motion calling for anyone named by Magnitsky or involved in persecuting him to be barred form the UK. He was supported by no fewer than three former foreign secretaries – Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw and David Miliband – though not by the present government, which is concerned by the prospect of Russian retaliation.

Before the debate, the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, wrote to the Speaker, John Bercow, protesting that to blacklist named officials would deny them the basic right of a presumption of innocence until proved guilty.

Since then, the deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry's investigations department, Alexander Yagodin, has denied that Magnitsky uncovered any tax fraud by anyone, which completely failed to convince 59 members of the Swedish Parliament who issued a call yesterday for sanctions against Russia. Undeterred, Mr Yagodin says the Russian will go ahead and try Mr Browder – whose grandfather, incidentally, ran the US communist party in the 1930s – and the dead Mr Magnitsky for tax evasion.

Defector mayor's taxing problem

Nothing annoys party politicians more than a defector, so when the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Eastleigh, Glynn Davies-Dear, walked out to form a new group, he risked the revenge of former colleagues. It took an unusual form. Drivers who put their vehicles through an MOT are entitled to drive to and from the test centre without a tax disc. Councillor Davies-Dear did that, but on his way home stopped off to take part in a parish council meeting. Three Liberal Democrats councillors followed him afterwards, filmed him, and reported him to the police and to the council's standards sub-committee. The committee has ticked him off. The police are taking no action. Councillor Davies-Dear has described his tormentors' action as "childish". Eastleigh Lib Dems do seem to have a problem with the rules of the road.

Attorney General's driving is offensive

And my colleague Susie Rushton, who by the way is heavily pregnant, had an annoying and potentially dangerous experience whilst driving through Hammersmith on Sunday morning. As she entered a mini roundabout, a people carrier shot out to her left, forcing her to move over so that it could turn right in front of her. The driver did not make eye contact, or attempt to apologise, but Susie and her husband had a good look at him as he went by. It was Dominic Grieve, who, as Attorney General, is the minister responsible for ensuring that we all obey the law.

Ed's a sweetie to his wife Justine

Yesterday we learnt a detail of the home life of Labour leader Ed Miliband that we never needed to know. His wife, Justine, below, "sometimes" calls him sweetie, but "generally" calls him Ed, he told a group of school children. When angry, "she still calls me Ed. She doesn't call me Edward or anything. She's a very patient person," he added.

Enough of that.

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