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Last updated 22 hours ago
Jan 28 2013 | 12:37pm ET
While Russian prosecutors have not tried very hard to win a conviction in the case of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, they are moving forward with a posthumous trial for the hedge fund lawyer.
The trial of Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in November 2009 at the age of 37, and of his client, Hermitage Capital Management's William Browder, began today in Moscow. The two are accused of tax fraud.
It is unclear whether the trial, condemned as "Kafkaesque" by Amnesty International, will be open to the public. Magnitsky's mother is boycotting the proceedings and has urged the lawyers appointed to represent her dead son to refuse to serve.
The Magnitsky case has become a major sore spot between Russia and the west. A U.S. law freezing the assets of and denying visas to 60 Russian officials Browder alleges were involved with Magnitsky's death led to a retaliatory law from Russia, barring U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.
Human rights groups have said that Magnitsky was tortured to death. Amnesty wrote last week that trying him is an "attempt to deflect the attention from those who committed the crimes he exposed."
Only two people have been charged in the death, both doctors. One had the case against her dropped last year, the other was acquitted after the prosecutor asked that he be cleared.
For his part, Browder, who has refused to participate in the Russian proceedings, made his annual trek to Davos, Switzerland, and the World Economic Forum, to continue to press for justice for Magnitsky, who had accused Russian Interior Ministry officials of defrauding the hedge fund.
"The Russian government plays this silly game," Browder told Fox Business. "They wash up, dress up, come to Davos and pretend they are normal, Western businesspeople looking to attract investment, and, in my opinion, they shouldn't be allowed to behave like criminals at home and then dine at our tables with white tablecloths when they come to Davos."
Browder also alleged that the Russians may have killed a person he called a whistleblower helping him trace some stolen tax money. 44-year-old Alexander Perepilichny dropped dead in London a few months ago; Browder said he was in otherwise good health and that the cause of his death is unclear.
And he blasted the adoption ban.
"It is kind of like when Saddam Hussein was taking women and children and using them as human shields in military bunkers and so on," Browder said. Russian President Vladimir Putin "has grabbed a bunch of the most vulnerable members of society, disabled orphans, and used them as human shields in the hopes that people will think he is so crazy that no one will provoke him to do more than he has already done."
Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who had decried Magnitsky's death and convened a human-rights panel to investigate it, and is now the country's prime minister, doesn't seem worried that Browder will succeed in shutting Moscow out of Davos or international financial circles. Medvedev reportedly said, upon returning from Davos, that big business is "uninterested" in the Magnitsky case. "Not a single businessman" brought it up with him during his time at the WEF, he said.