Russia resumes hearings against dead lawyer

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A Moscow court resumed preliminary hearings Monday in the posthumous trial of a Russian lawyer whose death in jail after accusing state officials of tax fraud has upset the Kremlin's delicate ties with the US.

The Tverskoi District Court began the latest preliminary hearing against Sergei Magnitsky -- Russia's first legal procedure against a dead man -- behind closed doors at 0600 GMT, a court spokeswoman told AFP.

The hearing is expected to set a date for the start of the trial in the case, after the state appointed an attorney to defend Magnitsky despite protests from his family.

"A lawyer is not allowed to take an instruction in a case that is clearly unlawful, and to take a position against the will of the client," said a complaint written by Magnitsky's relatives and distributed by his former employer Hermitage Capital.

"The assertion by prosecutors that the case was initiated at the request from the relatives is a lie," the letter said.

Magnitsky's mother Natalya and her own lawyers are boycotting the trial.

Hermitage Capital investment fund attorney Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention in 2009 at the age of 37 after being arrested and charged by the very same officials he had accused of organising a $230-million fraud scheme.

The case has come to symbolise the Kremlin's failure to crack down on corruption and has prompted a crisis in US-Russia ties, with Moscow retaliating to a US bill blacklisting officials deemed guilty of Magnitsky's death by banning US adoptions of Russian orphans.

Hermitage Capital was founded by the US born investor William Browder -- himself a defendant in the same tax evasion trial.

The Russian authorities reopened the case against Magnitsky nearly two years after his death in what Hermitage Capital claims is a bid to deflect attention from the real culprits in the tax fraud.

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