[JURIST] A Moscow court on Monday began preliminary hearings in the posthumous trial against Russian whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky [JURIST news archive]. This case marks the first time that Russia will carry out a legal proceeding [AFP report] against a deceased person. During the hearing, the judge is expected to set a date to begin trial, after which a state-appointed lawyer will be appointed to defend Magnitsky. Magnitsky's family members and lawyers have refused to attend the trial and criticized the appointment of a defense lawyer, claiming that the charges are politically motivated. Magnitsky's death while in custody, after accusing state officials of tax fraud, has caused a rift in Russia's relationship with the US.
Last month, the Moscow court ordered [JURIST report] Magnitsky's trial to begin in March. 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 Magnitsky and a former client of evading $16.8 million in taxes. In January a Moscow court postponed [JURIST report] the preliminary hearing for Magnitsky. Magnitsky's defense lawyer was appointed by the court after his family and lawyers refused to attend the trial, claiming the charges against Magnitsky were politically motivated