A Moscow court has convicted late investment fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion after Russia’s first posthumous trial. Part of the Magnitsky money trail had led to Switzerland.
The court on Thursday also convicted Magnitsky’s former client William Browder, a Briton who has spearheaded an international campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for Magnitsky’s death in a Moscow jail in 2009 while awaiting trial.
Browder was sentenced to nine years in prison in absentia, which underscores the dangers faced by Russians who challenge the authorities and deepened United States and European concern over human rights and the rule of law in Russia.
Browder lives in Britain and Russia’s options for jailing him are limited. Interpol has refused to include him on its international search list after deciding that Russia’s case against him was political.
In an email to swissinfo.ch, Browder said the verdict would go down in history as “one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin. This is the first conviction of a dead man in Europe in the last ten centuries”.
“The desperation behind this move shows the lengths that [Russian President] Putin is ready to go to to retaliate against anyone who exposes the stealing and corruption he presides over. When the Putin regime ultimately falls, future generations of Russians will be naming streets and monuments after Sergei Magnitsky for his heroism and sacrifice,” he said.
Browder added that the worst part of the verdict was the “malicious pain” that the Russian government was ready to inflict “on the grieving family of a man who was killed for standing up to government corruption and police abuse”.
He vowed to continue fighting for justice for Magnitsky and his family.
In January, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced it was freezing additional accounts in connection with its money laundering investigation into “persons unknown” in the Magnitsky case.
Last month, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court rejected an appeal which attempted to prevent it from providing administrative assistance to Russia, giving the green light for the transfer of bank data to Russia related to the Magnitsky affair.
Sergei Magnitsky died after a year in jail during which he said he was mistreated and denied medical care in an effort to get him to confess to tax evasion and give evidence against Browder, the head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management.
The Kremlin’s own human rights council has said there was evidence suggesting Magnitsky was beaten to death, but President Vladimir Putin has dismissed allegations of torture or foul play and told the nation last year that he died of heart failure.
Russian authorities closed the case against Magnitsky after his death but reopened it in 2011, in a move former colleagues say was illegal because they did not have the consent of his relatives.
“This show trial confirms that Vladimir Putin is ready to sacrifice his international credibility to protect corrupt officials who murdered an innocent lawyer and stole $230 million (CHF220 million) from the Russian state,” Hermitage Capital said in a statement.