Russia to reopen tax case linked to lawyer's death

MOSCOW, April 19, 2011 - A Moscow court was due Tuesday to reopen a hearing into the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from a US investor by Russian police in a case that led to the death of his jailed lawyer.

The November 2009 death in Butyrka prison of 37-year-old attorney Sergei Magnitsky gained broad international attention and refocused Western concerns about corruption and the lack of judicial independence in Russia.

Magnitsky claimed to have unravelled a complicated scheme through which Russian interior ministry officers stole control of three subsidiary companies formed by the US investment firm Hermitage Capital.

Hermitage says the companies were then bankrupted in 2007 before being used to receive a refund of some 5.4 billion rubles (about $190 million at the current exchange rate) in taxes paid by the firm.

The company's attorney Magnitsky was jailed shortly after the case became public and then accused of the very theft he alleged to have uncovered.

Magnitsky began suffering from gallstones and other ailments while in prison and was denied treatment until the final days before his death.

The 10th Arbitration Court of Appeal in Moscow was due Tuesday to hear whether control of the three companies mentioned by Magnitsky had indeed been stolen by the Russian police.

Hermitage - founded in 1996 by the US investor William Browder - has pursued the case even though it has effectively ceased operating in Russia.

The same court has already ruled against Hermitage. But that ruling was overturned by a federal panel.