RUSSIA put a dead man on trial yesterday in a courtroom devoid of defendants.
One side of the court was dominated by an empty steel cage and unoccupied grey bench where the late Sergei Magnitsky and his former client William Browder will never sit and listen to their trial.
Mr Magnitsky’s widow, Natalia Zharikova, condemned the proceedings yesterday as “blasphemy” that defiled the memory of her husband, and urged those involved to refuse to take part.
Neither the dead man’s family nor Mr Browder is in contact with the defence team, which did not attend Tverskoi district court, Moscow, to represent its absent clients against the government-appointed prosecution team. However, the defence argued in a note to the court that it needed until May to study all 60 volumes of evidence. The judge adjourned proceedings to March 22.
Internationally, the case against Mr Magnitsky, an anti-corruption whistleblower who died in prison in 2009, has come to symbolise the erosion of human rights and perceived politicisation of the law under President Putin.
Speaking from London, Mr Browder said that the case marked an “historic moment of depravity” in Russia’s “descent into legal nihilism”.
The British businessman’s company, Hermitage Capital Management, was once the largest Western investor in Russia. In 2005 his visa was suddenly revoked and when his Tcompany became the victim of a tax fraud he hired Mr Magnitsky, 37, a Russian lawyer, to investigate.
Mr Magnitsky uncovered what he claimed was a dollars 230 million scam involving corrupt government officials, police officers and organised criminals. He was promptly detained and accused of perpetrating it himself. Eleven months later, Mr Magnitsky died in detention. He had been severely beaten.