A decision by Russian authorities to go ahead with the trial of a dead lawyer is yet another example of the “endless vendetta” against him, a U.S. congressman said Monday.
A judge in Moscow has ruled that the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, who claimed to have exposed a web of corruption involving Russian officials, will proceed March 11. He has been accused of tax fraud.
“Unfortunately, the ordeal of Sergei Magnitsky did not end with his death,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “All these malevolent moves make it clear that Russian leaders recognize that they no longer have the support of the people they govern, and so they must resort to scare tactics to try and keep the lid on dissent.”
Mr. McGovern spoke at an event in Washington hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House and the Institute of Modern Russia, which is led by Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of jailed Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
“The farce of the trial of Sergei Magnitsky shows how far the regime is willing to go to protect itself,” said Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium.
Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, died in a Moscow detention center in November of 2009. He claimed that he had uncovered a $230 million tax fraud involving Russian government officials.
The case is believed to be the first time in Soviet or Russian history that a defendant has been tried posthumously. Magnitsky’s death strained relations between the U.S. and Russia.
Last year, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act that blacklists Russian officials accused of bribery and corruption, and denies them a U.S. visa. President Obama signed the bill into law in December.
In a tit-for-tat move, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that barred Americans from adopting Russian orphans.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, who sponsored the Magnitsky bill in the Senate, said Congress will not back down in the face of “irrational actions” in response to the Magnitsky Act.
“Our objective is not to ban Russians from visiting the United States or using our banking system,” Mr. Cardin said. “Our objective is to get Russia to do what is right for its citizens.”
He said the Magnitsky Act should apply globally, and not just to Russian officials.
“While the Magnitsky Act aims to restrain gross violators of human rights and corrupt officials, the adoption ban targets the most vulnerable of Russia’s own population,” said Mr. McGovern, who introduced the Magnitsky bill in the House of Representatives. “The adoption ban came as a panicky and vindictive response of the Russian leadership to the Magnitsky Act.”
Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister of Russia, said the Magnitsky Act was “a very important piece” of the U.S.-Russia relationship. “This piece of legislation is very necessary,” he added.