Russia presses ahead with trial of dead lawyer

Russian authorities went ahead Wednesday with the controversial posthumous trial of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky for tax evasion despite repeated protests by his family.

Magnitsky's family and their lawyers have boycotted the trial, which had to be repeatedly adjourned, but the latest hearing got underway at a Moscow court with witnesses being questioned, an AFP correspondent reported.

A black-clad guard stood not far from the symbolically empty defendant's cage with a bench inside.

The trial kicked off last week after Russian investigators closed a probe into Magnitsky's 2009 death aged 37, after he spent 11 months in squalid prisons, arguing there was no evidence of a crime.

"The trial in Moscow's Tverskoi district court desecrates the memory of my son," Magnitsky's mother was quoted as saying in a statement by Western hedge fund Hermitage Capital which employed him.

"By using this illegal process, those who did away with my son, those who deprived him of freedom, health and life itself, now want to take away his honest name and sling mud at him after his death," Natalia Magnitskaya was quoted as saying.

"The current authorities need a legal document, a court ruling saying that my son is allegedly guilty of the crimes in which he was implicated when he was alive."

Magnitsky claimed to have uncovered a massive fraud by Russian state officials. But shortly afterwards he was himself charged with the same tax evasion crimes he had alleged.

His London-based former employer William Browder, who is being tried in absentia, and his relatives say Magnitsky, who suffered from a range of illnesses, was deliberately denied treatment and was tortured.

The Investigative Committee last week said it had closed a probe into his death after the only defendant on trial for medical negligence was acquitted.

Last year, the United States adopted a law placing sanctions on Russian officials deemed to have been implicated in his death, while Russia hit back with a law banning US adoptions of Russian children.