- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
In a move straight out of Kafka, Russian police are taking the unusual step of filing new tax evasion charges against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in their custody two years ago:
The trial of the defendant, Sergei L. Magnitsky, would be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history, according to a statement by the former employer, Hermitage Capital.
The death of Mr. Magnitsky, a lawyer, in November 2009 drew international criticism over Russia’s human rights record, especially after accusations arose that he had been denied proper medical care. The State Department has barred officials linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s prosecutions from entering the United States. Parliaments in nine European countries are considering similar bans.
Police officials reopened the case against Mr. Magnitsky last summer, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name.
Relatives, though, said they had not asked for that, and executives at Hermitage said the motive was something else entirely: to vindicate the officials Mr. Magnitsky had accused of corruption.
Magnitsky’s original arrest on charges of tax evasion came shortly after he testified against two interior ministry officials, accusing them of embezzelement. See his business partner Jamison Firestone’s piece from last year for more background on the case. Hermitage CEO William Browder also wrote about Magnitsky shortly after his death in 2009.
Does anyone know of a precedent anywhere in the world for a posthumous prosecution? According to Hermitage, it’s never been done in Russia, even during the Soviet period. Even Adolph Hitler wasn’t posthumously prosecuted, though there was some discussion of the idea at Nuremburg. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed in 1661, three years after his death, but I can’t come up with any examples in modern times –particularly not for a crime like tax evasion.
The Russian justice system appears to have outdone itself.