Russia Convicts Dead Man Of Tax Evasion In Symbolic Case

A Moscow judge has found Sergei Magnitsky and his boss, investor William Browder, guilty of evading about $17 million in taxes. Trouble is, Magnitsky died in jail in 2009 and Browder is safe in Britain. The unusual exercise of trying a dead man seems to be an effort to rebut Browder's claims that Magnitsky was jailed in revenge for uncovering a $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by Russian officials. Magnitsky's supporters say he was beaten and mistreated during his year in pre-trial detention, and that he died from medical neglect.

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Now, to a court case that has strained relations between the United States and Russia and has outraged human rights groups. It involves a Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky. He had exposed corruption on the part of some Russian officials. Today, a Moscow court convicted Magnitsky of tax evasion, but no sentence will be imposed because he's been dead for nearly four years. NPR's Corey Flintoff has the story.

CORY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009, after spending a year in jail awaiting trial on the tax evasion charge. He was 37. President Putin's own human rights commission has said there was evidence that he was severely beaten in prison. Supporters say he may have died from medical neglect.

Investor William Browder, who was Magnitsky's former client, says the lawyer was jailed in revenge for having exposed a massive fraud in which Russian government officials allegedly stole more than $230 million. The tax evasion case against Magnitsky was brought by the very officials that he had accused. Browder, who was tried absentia with Magnitsky, was also found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. He now lives in Britain and Interpol has refused to arrest him on the grounds that the Russian case against him appears to be politically motivated.

Last year, Congress overwhelmingly passed a law that bars Russian officials from visiting or investing in the United States if they're suspected of involvement in the Magnitsky case. The so-called Magnitsky List of banned officials infuriated the Russian government. In retaliation, Russian lawmakers passed a law barring American families from adopting Russian orphans.

Cory Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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