Russian Court Convicts Dead Man
A prominent Kremlin critic who has been dead for several years has been convicted of tax evasion:
MOSCOW — The steel cage reserved for the defendants was empty Thursday, which was not surprising since one of them is dead and the other lives in London. The judge’s voice was nearly inaudible. And as he read out his verdict, one of the main defense lawyers paid no attention, tapping nonchalantly on his tablet computer instead.
If the posthumous prosecution of Sergei L. Magnitsky, the lawyer who was jailed as he tried to expose a huge government tax fraud and died four years ago in a Russian prison after being denied proper medical care, seemed surreal from the moment the authorities announced it late last year, the verdict and sentencing on Thursday did not disappoint.
By all accounts, it was Russia’s first trial of a dead man and in the tiny third-floor courtroom of the Tverskoi District Court, it took the judge, Igor B. Alisov, more than an hour and a half to read his decision pronouncing Mr. Magnitsky guilty on tax evasion charges.
Mr. Magnitsky was convicted along with his former client, the financier William F. Browder, who lives in Britain and was tried in absentia on the same charges. Mr. Browder, once Russia’s largest foreign investor, was sentenced to nine years in prison – a sentence that he will almost certainly never serve. Interpol in late May refused a request by the Russian government to track Mr. Browder’s whereabouts, a relatively rare instance of a law enforcement inquiry being set aside as politically motivated.
Mr. Magnitsky’s death — and the Kremlin’s refusal to hold anyone responsible either for his treatment in prison or for the fraud he tried to expose — has drawn international condemnation. It also set off a major diplomatic row with the United States, which late last year adopted a law named after him that bars Russian citizens accused of human rights abuses from traveling to America or maintaining financial assets there.
Russia retaliated by approving a law putting reciprocal restrictions on alleged American rights abusers and also barring the adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens.
After announcing the guilty verdicts, Judge Alisov said that the case against Mr. Magnitsky was dismissed as a result of his death, presumably to explain why he was not announcing any sentence.
At one point, a Moscow court ruled that the criminal case against Mr. Magnitsky was legal, even though he was dead, because his mother had insisted that her son was innocent in interviews with the press.
And if that makes sense to you, you’ve got one up on me.