Even death won't stop prosecution of Russian lawyer

In a move straight out of Kafka, Russian police are taking the unusual step of filing new tax evasion charges against lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in their custody two years ago:

The trial of the defendant, Sergei L. Magnitsky, would be the first posthumous prosecution in Russian legal history, according to a statement by the former employer, Hermitage Capital.

The death of Mr. Magnitsky, a lawyer, in November 2009 drew international criticism over Russia’s human rights record, especially after accusations arose that he had been denied proper medical care. The State Department has barred officials linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s prosecutions from entering the United States. Parliaments in nine European countries are considering similar bans.

Police officials reopened the case against Mr. Magnitsky last summer, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name.

Relatives, though, said they had not asked for that, and executives at Hermitage said the motive was something else entirely: to vindicate the officials Mr. Magnitsky had accused of corruption.

Magnitsky's original arrest on charges of tax evasion came shortly after he testified against two interior ministry officials, accusing them of embezzelement. See his business partner Jamison Firestone's piece from last year for more background on the case. Hermitage CEO William Browder also wrote about Magnitsky shortly after his death in 2009.  

Does anyone know of a precedent anywhere in the world for a posthumous prosecution? According to Hermitage, it's never been done in Russia, even during the Soviet period. Even Adolph Hitler wasn't posthumously prosecuted, though there was some discussion of the idea at Nuremburg. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously executed in 1661, three years after his death, but I can't come up with any examples in modern times --particularly not for a crime like tax evasion.

The Russian justice system appears to have outdone itself. 


Cuba embargo turns 50

50 years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order embargoing all trade with Fidel Castro's Cuba: 

Whereas the Eighth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Serving as Organ of Consultation in Application of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, in its Final Act resolved that the present Government of Cuba is incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Inter-American system; and, in light of the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the Government of Cuba is publicly aligned, urged the member states to take those steps that they may consider appropriate for their individual and collective self-defense;

Whereas the Congress of the United States, in section 620(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (75 Stat. 445), as amended, has authorized the President to establish and maintain an embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba; and

Whereas the United States, in accordance with its international obligations, is prepared to take all necessary actions to promote national and hemispheric security by isolating the present Government of Cuba and thereby reducing the threat posed by its alignment with the communist powers:

Now, Therefore, I, John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America, acting under the authority of section 620(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (75 Stat. 445), as amended, do

1. Hereby proclaim an embargo upon trade between the United States and Cuba in accordance with paragraphs 2 and 3 of this proclamation.

2. Hereby prohibit, effective 12:01 A.M., Eastern Standard Time, February 7, 1962, the importation into the United States of all goods of Cuban origin and all goods imported from or through Cuba; and I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of the Treasury to carry out such prohibition, to make such exceptions thereto, by license or otherwise, as he determines to be consistent with the effective operation of the embargo hereby proclaimed, and to promulgate such rules and regulations as may be necessary to perform such functions.

3. AND FURTHER, I do hereby direct the Secretary of Commerce, under the provisions of the Export Control Act of 1949, as amended (50 U.S.C. App. 2021-2032), to continue to carry out the prohibition of all exports from the United States to Cuba, and I hereby authorize him, under that Act, to continue, make, modify, or revoke exceptions from such prohibition.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

DONE at the City of Washington this third day of February, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty-two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-sixth.


By the President:
Dean Rusk,
Secretary of State

The order went into effect on Feb. 7. Since that day, there have been ten U.S. presidents, five of whom are now deceased. The Sino-Soviet Communism mentioned in the order has ceased to exist. The embargo has been overwhelmingly condemned in the United Nations for 20 straight years -- the last time it came up for a vote, only Israel supported the U.S. position, with Palau, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands abstaining. Cuba has never been classified as anything but "not free" on Freedom House's "Freedom in the World" rankings. In the past 50 years, the U.S. has conducted trade with countries including China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Chad, and Belarus. 

Though the Obama administration has officially extended the embargo each year, there have been some small changes including easing travel and investment restrictions. The administration is clearly not all that enthusiastic about the policy, with one administration official telling CBS in 2009, "I think if you're arguing for consistency, it's something that we strive for but don't always reach. And that's obviously the case."

With support for the embargo falling, even among Cuban-Americans, it's tempting to wonder if a second-term Obama might take action to end the policy. But as long as the Castro brothers are alive, there doesn't really seem to be much of a political upside to lifting the Kennedy-era embargo. Assuming at least one of the brothers is still alive, I'd be very suprised if an 11th president doesn't inherit the embargo, whether in 2012 or 2016. 

AFP/Getty Images