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The preliminary hearing of the posthumous trial of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky has been postponed after his family and their lawyers refused to take part in the trial.
Russian authorities had required Magnitsky’s mother and widow to be present at the trial to speak on his behalf, but after both they and their lawyers refused to participate, only the judge and the prosecution appeared in court yesterday.
Hermitage Capital Founder Bill Browder, for whom Magnitsky was working when he was detained in 2009, is also due to be examined in the hearing, albeit in absentia. It is understood that he is one of few foreigners ever to be tried in absentia in Russia.
The hearing is now due to take place on 18 February and Judge Igor Alisov and the Russian authorities are planning to appoint lawyers to defend both Magnitksy and Browder.
Earlier this month, Natalya Magnitskaya, Magnitsky’s mother, appealed via a formal application to Moscow Bar Association chairman Henri Reznik to urge all of its members to not participate as ‘state-appointed counsel’ in the trial.
Last week Reznik was due to represent Alexander Lebedev in a pre-trial hearing related to charges of alleged hooliganism against the Russian businessman, but the hearing was postponed as Reznik was out of the country (28 January 2013).
In November 2011 the Moscow district court rejected an appeal by Magnitsky’s mother to close the case against her son, who died in 2009 in a Moscow prison before he could stand trial.
In October 2012 she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to declare that Russia had violated the European Convention of Human Rights in relation to her son’s death (19 October 2012)
The issue of the court case, which is set to be the first posthumous trial in Russian history, first emerged in August 2011 when Russian authorities originally began to consider resubmitting Magnitsky’s case to trial after the Russian constitutional court ruled that the death of a defendant should not automatically render an investigation closed.
The news also comes a matter of days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev rejected claims that the Magnitsky case had damaged Russia’s investment potential during a television interview with state-owned Vesti at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Not a single businessman is bringing this up,” he told the reporter. “It doesn’t interest anyone, except perhaps certain individuals who are earning political capital from it.”
The hearing also comes almost six weeks after US President Barack Obama signed into law the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, after the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing the bill in November last year (20 November 2012).