Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and American fund manager Bill Browder have been found guilty of tax fraud by a Moscow court, the AP reports.
To understand a little bit of how ridiculous this is, take a look at this picture from the court today:
The picture shows the cage where the defendants are supposed to sit during the trial. Neither of them are there.
That’s because today’s conviction comes despite Magnitsky dying in 2009 after serving a pre-trial detention in a Moscow jail. His death sparked an international incident, and officials involved in the case are banned from the U.S. and from holding American assets under what has become known as the Magnitsky Act. Browder has not returned to Russia since 2006 when he was denied entry to the country.
Magnitksy’s death is a heartbreaking story. The lawyer had been working for Hermitage Capital, a fund managed by Browder. After Hermitage’s offices were raided in 2007, Magnitsky began investigating and later testified that he had uncovered a huge scam by top police officials to embezzle $230 million in taxes from money that Hermitage Fund companies had paid in 2006.
In November 2008, Magnitsky himself was charged with tax evasion and taken to prison. Kept in Moscow’s notorious pre-trial prisons, Magnitsky unexpectedly died in November 2009. His death was originally attributed to an abdominal membrane rupture, before officials changed that to a heart attack. There are reports that he had been beaten and denied medical treatment by guards.
Magnitsky is one of four witnesses in the case who have died in mysterious circumstances.
Though there would be no punishment for the deceased lawyer, Magnitsky’s relatives regard the case against him as illegal. Browder, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in absentia, called the trial “one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin.”
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