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Russia convicts lawyer Magnitsky posthumously of tax evasion

A Russian court has convicted the late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion in an unprecedented posthumous trial. His death in prison four years ago prompted widespread criticism from human rights activists.

Russian news agencies reported that Judge Igor Alisov found Magnitsky guilty on Thursday alongside his former boss, US-born British citizen William Browder, who was tried in absentia. Both men were convicted of evading some $17 million (13 million euros) in taxes in Moscow's Tverskoy District Court.

Browder, the owner of the investment firm Hermitage Capital, was sentenced to nine years in a labor camp. No sentence was issued for Magnitsky owing to his death in 2009. He died of untreated pancreatitis aged 37 in pre-trial detention in a case which became a symbol of Russian prison abuse.

Months before his death, Magnitsky had accused corrupt Interior Ministry officials of organizing a $230 million tax scam. He then found himself charged with the same crime he claimed to have uncovered.

Browder has long alleged that Magnitsky was tortured to death with beatings and the refusal of proper medical care. His campaign to ban the Russian officials he considered responsible from entering the United States triggered one of the biggest Russia-US rows in years.

Last year the US passed a law dubbed the Magnitsky Act, which allows sanctions to be imposed on Russians named as human rights offenders. It also imposed a visa ban and assets freeze on the Russian officials implicated in Magnisky's death.

Moscow responded by passing legislation prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children.

In a statement on Thursday, Browder described the ruling as "one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Josef Stalin," vowing to continue to fight for justice for Magnitsky.

Browder, who lives in Britain, is unlikely to serve his sentence after Interpol refused to include him on its international search list after deciding the case against him was politically motivated.

Russia legalized posthumous trials in 2011, when the nation's top court ruled that relatives should have the opportunity to clear loved ones' names.

ccp/pfd (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)