12 Jul 2013

Dead lawyer convicted of tax evasion in Moscow

1:20 pm on 12 July 2013

A court in Moscow has found Sergei Magnitsky, a dead Russian investigative lawyer, guilty of tax evasion.

The defendant, who died in prison in 2009 aged 37, was arrested after accusing a group of officials of massive tax fraud.

It's thought to be the first time in Russian or Soviet history that a defendant has been tried after his death. The BBC reports no sentence will be passed on him.

Magnitsky's family and lawyers said the case was politically motivated.

The court also found Hermitage Capital Management chief executive William Browder, who was represented by Mr Magnitsky, was guilty of tax fraud. He was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison.

While employed as an auditor for Hermitage, Magnitsky uncovered what he described as a web of corruption involving Russian tax officials, including the theft of more than $US200 million.

After reporting this to the authorities, he was himself detained on suspicion of helping Hermitage evade $US17.4 million in taxes.

He was also accused of having registered two companies in the republic of Kalmykia to hide assets.

Mr Browder has described the charges filed against him as an "absurdity" and revenge for his campaign to put pressure on Russia over the Magnitsky case.

He told the BBC on Wednesday the entire legal process had happened because Magnitsky "blew the whistle" on official fraud "and for that he was tortured and killed in police custody and then prosecuted afterwards".

"Instead of Putin bringing justice, he exonerated all the officials involved and prosecuted the whistle blowers,'' he said.