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MOSCOW, February 19 (Itar-Tass) - A Moscow court on Monday began preliminary hearings of the criminal case against former lawyer of Britain's Hermitage Capital Foundation Sergei Magnitsky. Immediately after the beginning of the session, the judge postponed it to March 4, as he met the petition by the newly-appointed lawyers who had no time to read the case materials. Meanwhile, rights activists called the trial illegitimate.
It is the first, but not the last case against Sergei Magnitsky and William Browder which has come to the court, the Rossiiskaya Gazeta reports. Another case is still under investigation. The newspaper reminds that Magnitsky and Foundation director Browder are accused of tax evasion. The investigators believe it was not a minor role Magnitsky had played in the tax evasion scheme. He is suspected of setting up a company comprising two Kalmykia-based firms. This enabled Magnitsky and his accomplices to circumvent legislation and decrease tax deductions by seven times. The prisoner's dock will be empty during the hearing. Magnitsky died in a remand prison in 2009. Browder, who is in good health, will certainly not turn up for the trial. He will be tried in absentia, as Great Britain has refused to cooperate with Russia in this issue.
The new lawyers were appointed because Magnitsky's relatives are demanding that his posthumous persecution be stopped, the Novye Izvestia notes. For their part, the investigators do not see the reasons to drop the case against the diseased person. The newspaper believes that the Russian authorities seem to be trying to have the case review result in a guilty verdict, in order to show to the U.S. government and other European countries the injustice of the adoption of the "Magnitsky Act."
Meanwhile, rights activists have strongly opposed the trial. Under the recent ruling by the Constitutional Court, the trial of a dead person is possible in Russia at the initiative of the deceased's relatives.
Head of the Public Observer Commission of Moscow Valery Borshchev explained to the newspaper why the Magnitsky trial can be regarded illegitimate, in accordance with the Constitutional Court's ruling.
"The Constitutional Court has clearly said that trials of deceased persons can only be held at the request of their relatives for rehabilitation purposes," the rights activist said, "If Magnitsky's mother had written a statement requesting his rehabilitation, then that issue could have been raised. But she's never written such a statement."
The Novye Izvestia notes that the trial of a deceased person was a very unusual case, even in earlier times. "The last trial of the deceased was the trial of Oliver Cromwell in England, when he was dug out of the grave, hung, quartered, etc," Borshshev reminded, "I don't know other precedents. It's an ignominious trial; the authorities do not know how to save face in the Magnitsky situation."
According to Yevgeney Ikhlov, a lawyer of the For Human Rights movement, "the Magnitsky case is on in order to tell that he was not an innocent victim, but a criminal who died in prison." "So that they could spit on his grave," Ikhlov added.