Russian judge rejects challenge against dead lawyer's trial
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A court-appointed defense lawyer tried to scuttle the posthumous trial of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky on Friday, saying the state had no right to prosecute a dead man without the consent of his family.
But the judge rejected the lawyer's challenge, paving the way for a trial that is seen by President Vladimir Putin's critics as politically motivated and intended to discredit fraud accusations made by Magnitsky, who died in jail in 2009.
Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage Capital Management, once one of the biggest investors in Russia, was arrested shortly after accusing Russian officials of stealing $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.
He died after nearly a year in jail during which he said he was denied medical treatment. A Kremlin human rights council has aired suspicions he was beaten to death, but Putin has dismissed allegations of foul play.
Magnitsky's death underscored the dangers faced by Russians who challenge the authorities and seek to uncover corruption. It deepened U.S. and European concern over human rights in Russia since Putin came to power in 2000.
Magnitsky's relatives have refused to take part in the first trial of a dead man in Russia, calling it inhuman and absurd, but the Moscow court appointed defense lawyers earlier this year and has pushed ahead with proceedings.
"There were no grounds for this prosecution to take place," one of those lawyers, Nikolai Gerasimov, told the court, saying relatives had not given consent to reopen the case against Magnitsky.
The judge rejected Gerasimov's request to refer the issue to Russia's Constitutional Court, and prosecutors began making their case before the judge adjourned proceedings until next week.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)