Nick Cohen Nick Cohen

Arraigning a corpse

Part 1 “Russian Justice”
A judge at Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court stopped the trial of Sergei Magnitsky (above) yesterday – but not because the defendant was dead. Magnitsky’s demise was of no concern to the judge. It did not bother him in the slightest. The court merely postponed proceedings until 4 March when the world will see something rarely seen since the Middle Ages: a prosecutor arraigning a corpse.

The Putin regime – that mixture of autocracy and gangsterism – is desperate to discredit the late Mr Magnitsky and his employer, Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital. If you don’t know the story, I’ll explain why.

Browder exposed corruption in Russian companies. The Russian authorities did not approve. Interior Ministry police raided Hermitage’s offices after Browder and most of his employees had fled the country.

Magnitsky stayed and claimed that the Interior Ministry police had stolen the seals to its Russian subsidiaries and passed them to a crime gang. The gang re-registered the companies and claimed to be Hermitage’s rightful owners. They told the Russian authorities they owed Hermitage a tax rebate. Within a day, corrupt officials handed over £143m of public money.

Magnitsky complained to the Russian equivalent of the FBI. Russia being the way it is, the Interior Ministry arrested him for speaking out. The state held him for a year in wretched prisons. In June 2009, Magnitsky developed pancreatitis and cholecystitis. The prison authorities denied him treatment. They probably tortured him, too. When civilian doctors finally came to see him on the day of his death, the guards would not let them into his cell for an hour. The doctors found his body lying in a pool of urine. He died rather than retract his testimony.

Needless to add his murder does not concern the Russian authorities. Rather Bill Browder’s campaign for justice for his dead friend has enraged and frightened them.

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