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Russia putting dead whistleblower on trial

Sergei Magnitsky, 37, died in a Moscow jail cell after nearly a year of detentionThe Russian General Prosecutor’s Office is moving forward with plans to bring a criminal case against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 after spending a year in police custody.

This will be the first posthumous trial in Russian legal history, according to a press release Thursday from London-based Hermitage Capital Management, which employed Magnitsky.

Hermitage’s American-born CEO, William Browder, is also being put on trial in Moscow in absentia.

The press release said the criminal case against Magnitsky and Browder is retaliation for Hermitage’s complaints against Russian law enforcement officials.

Hermitage has alleged official involvement to illegally expropriate its Russian investment fund. After the expropriation, $230 million of taxes paid to the Russian government in 2006 was fraudulently reclaimed and funnelled to known criminals and officials, Hermitage said.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to ban visas and freeze bank accounts of about 60 Russian officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s detention and death.

President Barack Obama supports the law. He’s expected to sign a version before the end of the year.

No one in Russia has been arrested or tried in connection with Magnitsky’s death.

The criminal case against him and Browder accuses them of corporate tax underpayments in 2001, Hermitage said. That was before Magnitsky began working for Browder or Hermitage.

Before his detention in 2008, Magnitsky testified in Russia about the alleged looting of Hermitage’s fund by known criminals and government officials.

He was then held by police for nearly a year and tortured, Hermitage said.

‘He was found dead on a cell floor on 16 November 2009 with signs of bruises and lacerations on his arms and legs. The Russian government declared he had died of heart failure,’ Hermitage said.

At least a dozen countries in Europe are planning next year to consider visa and asset bans against Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s case.

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