Russia opens trial of dead lawyer Magnitsky

Court scene with empty cage, 22 Mar 13
Image caption Magnitsky is dead so the defendant's cage in court was empty

The controversial trial of a Russian lawyer who died in prison - Sergei Magnitsky - has opened in Moscow but it was adjourned shortly after.

A state-appointed lawyer for Magnitsky questioned the trial's legality, saying the dead man's family did not recognise him as their lawyer.

Magnitsky's family has dismissed the trial as a mockery of justice.

Magnitsky died in detention after accusing officials of a major tax fraud. His case soured Russian-US ties.

Legal experts say they are unaware of any parallels for such a trial in Russian history.

The defence lawyer, Nikolai Gerasimov, voiced further complaints about the proceedings, saying he had not had enough time to study the charges and that prosecutors had denied access to some documents. All his complaints were dismissed. The judge adjourned the trial until 27 March.

Magnitsky is accused of helping investment fund Hermitage Capital and its boss Bill Browder in a tax evasion scheme.

Earlier this week Russian police dropped their investigation into his death in prison in 2009.

Magnitsky died at the age of 37 in pre-trial detention after developing pancreatitis.

His family and the Presidential Human Rights Council say he was badly beaten and denied medical treatment.

He was arrested while investigating the alleged theft of $230m (£150m) by interior ministry officials. He had accused them of filing false corporate tax returns, after seizing key documents from Hermitage Capital.

Magnitsky himself was accused of helping Hermitage Capital evade $17.4m (£11.7m) in taxes.

The case has strained relations between Russia and the US, with Washington passing the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists Russian officials accused of involvement in his death.

In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Russian law barring Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

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