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Russia court finds deceased whistleblower guilty of tax evasion

A Moscow court on Thursday convicted deceased lawyer Sergei Magnitsky [JURIST news archive] and former client, William Browder, of tax evasion. Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009 under suspicious circumstances, was a lawyer for the Hermitage Capital Fund [corporate website] and was arrested in 2008 by Russian Interior Ministry [official website, in English] officials on suspicion of tax evasion after he accused the ministry of embezzling USD $230 million from the state. State prosecutors accused Magnitsky and Browder of evading $16.8 million in taxes. William Browder, a British investment fund boss, has led a campaign to expose corruption [Reuters report] and punish Russian officials, whom he blames for Magnitsky's death. Bowder was tried in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] stated that Magnitsky's conviction in Russia's first posthumous trial "set a dangerous precedent that could open a whole new chapter in Russia's worsening human rights record."

Magnitsky's death and posthumous trial caused a rift in Russia's relationship with the US. Last December US lawmakers passed the Magnitsky Act [text] in the lawyer's name, which allows the US Secretary of the Treasury [official website] to freeze assets, prohibit all transactions and deny visas to Russians implicated in human rights abuses. In possible retaliation, Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in English; JURIST news archive] signed into law [JURIST report] a bill that prohibits US citizens from adopting Russian children. Also in December a Moscow court acquitted [JURIST report] prison doctor Dmitry Kratov of all charges stemming from Magnitsky's death, as the judge found no evidence showing a causal link between Kratov's negligence and Magnitsky's death. Kratov was the head of medical services at Butyrka Prison, where Magnitsky died from untreated pancreatitis. An investigation conducted by Russia's Presidential Council on Human Rights concluded [JURIST report], however, that in addition to being denied medical treatment, Magnitsky had been severely beaten during his year-long incarceration. Kratov was accused of negligence for allegedly refusing to respond to repeated requests by Magnitsky to treat his life-threatening condition.

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