A Russian court on Monday postponed the trial of a dead lawyer who accused law-enforcement authorities of massive corruption and whose case sparked a dispute between Washington and Moscow.
Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was jailed in 2008 on charges of tax evasion. The charges came after he alleged officials and organized criminals conspired to claim $230 million in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year of untreated pancreatitis while awaiting trial. The Russian presidential council on human rights said in a 2011 report that Magnitsky had been repeatedly beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment.
The death attracted wide international attention. The United States last year enacted a law named after Magnitsky that allows sanctions against Russians considered human rights violators. Russia retaliated by banning Americans adopting Russian children.
The posthumous trial for Magnitsky was to open Monday.
But court-appointed defense attorneys Nikolai Gerasimov and Kirill Goncharov petitioned for the trial to be put off until May so that they could study the case files. Judge Igor Alisov postponed the hearings until March 22.
Lawyers representing Magnitsky's family have refused to take part in the proceedings, calling them a mockery of justice and blasphemy.
Russia's highest court ruled in 2011 that posthumous trials are allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones' names. In Magnitsky's case, prosecutors re-filed charges although family members said they didn't want another trial.
In a statement released by Hermitage Capital, an investment fund that once employed Magnitsky, the lawyer's widow, Natalya Zharikova on Monday called on the parties in the trial to refuse to take participate.
"I think that if any of its participants have a conscience — and this is key not only in human morality but also in the Russian criminal law — they have a duty to refuse to participate in this blasphemy," she said.
Gerasimov and Goncharov told reporters at preliminary hearings earlier this month that as members of the Moscow Bar Association they had no choice but to take part in the trial once they were appointed to represent the dead lawyer, otherwise they would lose their licenses to practice.