Russia Convicts Dead Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky of Tax Evasion

File photo of Nataliya Magnitskaya holding a portrait of her son, Sergei Magnitsky.
File photo of Nataliya Magnitskaya holding a portrait of her son, Sergei Magnitsky.

A Moscow court convicted lawyer Sergei Magnitsky on Thursday of tax evasion after Russia's first posthumous trial, and sentenced British investment fund head William Browder in absentia to nine years in prison in rulings that will further undermine President Vladimir Putin's reputation in the West.

Browder, a Briton, has led an international campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for Magnitsky's death in a Moscow jail while awaiting trial in 2009.

Browder lives in Britain and Russia's options for jailing him are limited. Interpol has refused to include him on its international search list after deciding that Russia's case against him was political.

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The case has underscored the dangers faced by Russians who challenge the authorities and deepened U.S. and European concern over human rights and the rule of law in Russia.

Magnitsky died after a year in jail. He had said he was mistreated and denied medical care while in custody in an effort to get him to confess to tax evasion and give evidence against Browder, the head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management.

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The Kremlin's own human rights council has said there was evidence suggesting Magnitsky was beaten to death, but Putin has dismissed allegations of torture or foul play and told the nation last year that he died of heart failure.

Russian authorities closed the case against Magnitsky after his death but reopened it in 2011, in a move former colleagues say was illegal because they did not have the consent of his relatives.

"This show trial confirms that Vladimir Putin is ready to sacrifice his international credibility to protect corrupt officials who murdered an innocent lawyer and stole $230 million from the Russian state," Hermitage Capital said in a statement.

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—By Reuters with