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Russian whistleblower convicted in bizarre posthumous trial

Grave of Sergei Magnitsky in Moscow (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)A Russian court Thursday found Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion even though the whistleblowing lawyer died in a Moscow jail in 2009.

Magnitsky, 37, was working for London-based Hermitage Capital when he uncovered evidence of a $230 million tax fraud against the Russian treasury.

He accused government officials of being part of a tax refund scheme using Hermitage Capital’s Russian corporate books that had been illegally expropriated.

Some of those named by Magnitsky orchestrated his detention, according to Hermitage. He died about a year later after being denied medical care. There was evidence he had been beaten and tortured while in custody.

In his prison diary, Magnitsky said ‘investigators tried to persuade him to give testimony against Hermitage and drop the accusations against the police and tax authorities,’ according to Owen Matthews of the Spectator. ‘When Magnitsky refused, he was moved to more and more horrible sections of the prison, and ultimately denied the medical treatment which could have saved his life.’

His detention and death led to enactment in the United States of the Magnitsky Act, a law sanctioning culpable Russian officials by imposing U.S. visa bans and freezing their assets.

Over protests from Magnitsky’s family and human rights groups around the world, the Russian government this year put the dead lawyer on trial for tax evasion.

NPR reported that ‘the tax evasion case against Magnitsky was brought by the very officials that he had accused.’

It was the first posthumous trial to be held in Russia and one of the few in history.

The AP named just four examples of other posthumous trials.

Pope Formosus’s corpse was put on trial in the so-called Cadaver Synod of 897, the AP said. The dead body was found guilty of perjury and violating church law. Punishment was removal of three fingers on his right hand.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 for heresy. She was retried 25 years later at the request of her mother and exonerated.

Oliver Cromwell, the English anti-royalist, was put on trial after he died. In 1661, when royalists reasserted control, Cromwell’s body was ‘exhumed and decapitated, and his head was displayed on a pole for years,’ the AP said.

And Martin Bormann, Adolph Hitler’s personal assistant, was sentenced to death by the Nuremberg tribunal in 1946. His whereabouts were then unknown. In 1972, his body was found in Berlin and his death was determined to have occurred in 1945, as he tried to escape from the city.

Hermitage Capital’s founder William Browder was convicted with Magnitsky of tax evasion in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison, according to Bloomberg.

The trial was held at the Tverskoi District Court before Judge Igor Alisov.

Browder’s lawyers plan an appeal.

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