A Russian whistleblower whose allegations of a corrupt Kremlin led to strained relations with the United States and a ban on Americans adopting Russian children has been convicted of tax evasion by a Moscow court — three years after he died in prison.
“Today’s verdict will go down in history as one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin,” U.S.-born British investor William Browder said in a statement reported by Reuters
. “The worst part of today’s verdict is the malicious pain that the Russian government is ready to inflict on the grieving family of a man who was killed for standing up to government corruption and police abuse."
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The Russian court on Thursday announced the conviction of Russian Sergei Magnitsky, who was Browder’s lawyer during the 2008 allegations.
Magnitsky had claimed that organized crime figures colluded with a corrupt Interior Ministry to collect a $230 million tax rebate after stealing some subsidiaries of Browder’s investment company. Magnitsky was arrested on what critics of the Russian government called unwarranted tax evasion charges. He died in prison in 2009 of untreated pancreatitis.
That led to widespread international criticism. Human rights groups claim Magnitsky was beaten in retribution for his revelations.
But Judge Igor Alisov said that “Magnitsky masterminded a massive tax evasion scheme in a ... conspiracy with a group of people,” according to the ITAR-Tass news agency
. It also sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years in prison.
Magnitsky’s death became an international cause celebre and led Congress to adopt the so-called Magnitsky bill last year. The legislation bars Russian officials believed to be tied to Magnitsky’s death from entering the United States
or using its financial system.
Russia retaliated by banning Americans from adopting Russian children
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Russian authorities were getting hammered on social networking sites over the conviction.
“Russia persecutes #Magnitsky even after murdering him,” wrote @KellyAyotte on Twitter.
“Proof you can never evade death and taxes: Russian court convicts dead lawyer for tax evasion,” tweeted @DavanMaharaj.
“It is not the most appropriate of judicial decisions taken in Russia in recent times, putting it mildly,” Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of the Presidential Council on Civic Society and Human Rights, told the Los Angeles Times
. “Besides, the dead can't be tried by any human court; it is up to history to try them.”
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