A Moscow court on Monday ordered a trial to begin next month against deceased whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky [JURIST news archive]. Magnitsky, who died in prison in 2009, 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 accuse [AP report] Magnitsky and a former client of evading $16.8 million in taxes. Magnitsky's family and lawyers have refused to attend the trial claiming the charges are politically motivated.
Magnitsky's death while in custody has caused a rift in Russia's relationship with the US. In December US lawmakers passed the Magnitsky Act [text] in the lawyer's name, which will allow the US Secretary of the Treasury [official website] to freeze assets, prohibit all transactions and deny visas to Russians implicated in human rights abuses. Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] in December signed into law [JURIST report] a bill that prohibits US citizens from adopting Russian children, possibly in retaliation. Also In December a Moscow court acquitted [JURIST report] prison doctor Dmitry Kratov of all charges stemming from Magnitsky's death, with the judge finding 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] that in addition to being denied medical treatment Magnitsky had been severely beaten during his year long pretrial incarceration. Kratov was accused of negligence for allegedly refusing to respond to repeated requests by Magnitsky to treat his life-threatening condition.