EU's Ashton slams 'unfair' Magnitsky verdict

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Friday slammed a Moscow court verdict convicting Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky of tax evasion more than three years after his prison death.

A statement from her office said she was "concerned at the guilty verdict" on Thursday against Magnitsky and his former boss, US-born British citizen William Browder.

"Mr Magnitsky has been posthumously declared a criminal on the basis of unfair procedures and unconvincing evidence, while neither the corruption scandal he helped to uncover nor the circumstances of his death have been clarified," the statement said.

It added that Ashton "remains concerned about the premature closure of the investigation into Mr Magnitsky's death last March, in spite of compelling evidence of wrongdoing".

The trial of a deceased person was almost unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia, raising concerns the judicial authorities under President Vladimir Putin had continued to persecute Magnitsky because of the political furore over his death.

Washington also criticised the court's ruling in a case that has strained relations between the two countries.

"We are disappointed by the unprecedented posthumous criminal conviction against Sergei Magnitsky," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"The trial was a discredit to the efforts of those who continue to seek justice in his case." ccr/mfp