Updated: Friday, 22 Mar 2013, 9:53 AM EDT
Published : Friday, 22 Mar 2013, 8:33 AM EDT
MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court began proceedings Friday against a Russian lawyer whose death in jail three years ago generated international headlines and soured U.S.-Russian relations.
Sergei Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 on charges of tax evasion. He died in prison the next year of untreated pancreatitis after he testified against police officials, accusing them of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. The Russian presidential council on human rights has said that Magnitsky was repeatedly beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment while in prison.
In response, the United States enacted a law last year named after Magnitsky that allows sanctions against Russians considered human rights violators. Russia retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
Lawyers representing Magnitsky's family have refused to take part in the proceedings, calling them a mockery of justice.
Since Magnitsky died in custody awaiting trial, he was never convicted of anything. If he is convicted of fraud in this trial, Russian officials will feel more justified in criticizing U.S. backing for him.
Russia's Constitutional Court ruled in 2011 that posthumous trials are allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones' names. In Magnitsky's case, however, prosecutors re-filed charges even though family members said they didn't want another trial, their attorneys said Friday.
"Silence does not imply consent in this case," lawyer Nikolai Gerasimov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying, referring to the Magnitsky family's refusal to have anything to do with the investigators.
State-appointed lawyers for Magnitsky filed a motion Friday in Moscow to contest the legality of this posthumous trial, asking Russia's highest court to explain the legal procedures for such trials. Presiding Judge Igor Alisov turned down the motion.
Russia's main investigative body, the Investigative Committee, said in a statement that the posthumous trial of Magnitsky was not linked to his claims of police corruption.
Prison doctor Dmitry Kratov, the only person to face trial previously in Magnitsky's death, was acquitted in late December. Another doctor was not charged because of the statute of limitations, investigators said.