Russia will press ahead tomorrow with its highly unusual posthumous prosecution of a whistleblowing lawyer who revealed how members of the government’s powerful Interior Ministry were part of a gang that stole £230m from Russian taxpayers.
The trial of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in November 2009 after months of neglect and torture in a Russian jail cell, will begin behind closed doors with the chairs of the two defendants left empty. His co-accused – the British hedge-fund manage William Browder – is banned from entering Russia and has refused to take part in what he has described as a “Stalin show trial”.
The case has become a source of international embarrassment for Moscow with America recently banning any officials involved in the arrest and death of Mr Magnitsky from holding assets in the US or travelling there. Moscow responded with a ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
Supporters of Mr Magnitsky say he was jailed and killed for daring to expose how a network of Russian officials and criminal underworld figures used complex tax frauds to steal money from the Russian people. Russian prosecutors admit the frauds occurred but after initially blaming a number of low- level crime figures (some of whom were dead before the scams took place) they have since switched to accusing Mr Magnitsky and Mr Browder of carrying out the crimes they say they uncovered.
Amnesty International has already warned that the trial of Mr Magnitsky has “a whole new chapter in Russia’s worsening human rights record” and is a “sinister attempt to deflect attention from those who committed the crimes he exposed”. It also violates his human rights even in death, denying him “in particular the right to defend himself in person”, Amnesty adds.