Whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky has posthumous day in court
Nataliya Magnitskaya, mother of dead anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, asked that his posthumous trial be cancelled. He died in November 2009, after nearly a year in jail during which he said he was denied medical treatment. Reuters/Maxim Shemetov
Some lines you just can’t make up, even if you’re Monty Python.
The latest was from the Russian prosecutor heading the case against tax lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed an alleged massive $230 million tax theft that he linked to high echelons of Russian power.
“Magnitsky is fully incriminated,” he argued, “and there are no grounds for his rehabilitation.”
The prosecutor, apparently, was channeling the Heavenly Host this week in Moscow’s Tverskoi court: Magnitsky died more than three years ago in Butyrka prison, his body bearing signs suggesting a fatal beating, according to the Kremlin’s own human rights council.
After reporting his findings, Magnitsky had been jailed on a tax swindle charge himself – a role reversal routinely used by the authorities. His employer, William Browder of the Hermitage Capital Management investment company, was also accused and tried in absentia.
Magnitsky’s much-derided posthumous prosecution is almost unique in history. But it stopped short of exhuming his body and dragging it into court, as Italian papal officials had done in another politically-loaded case against Pope Formosus in 897 AD.
In Russia, posthumous trials were meant to give grieving families the chance to clear the names of relatives falsely executed for political crimes after the death of Joseph Stalin. But although Magnitsky’s mother protested the Moscow proceedings, her pleas were ignored.
Browder maintains that the purpose of the trial is to discredit him, and Magnitsky, for the international campaign Browder waged against those implicated in the lawyer’s death – resulting in U.S. sanctions that outraged the Kremlin.
The court’s verdict will be delivered July 11 by the same judge who earlier cleared all officials accused in the tax scam. The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Browder to nine years in prison – an unlikely outcome, as he lives outside the country. And he called for Magnitsky to be declared guilty and the case closed.
Sadly, with no chance for rehabilitation.
Olivia Ward was the Star’s Moscow correspondent and bureau chief from 1992 to 2002. She has covered the former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.