MOSCOW -- More than three years after he died in prison, whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion by a Moscow court on Wednesday.
The posthumous trial of Magnitsky was a macabre chapter in a case that ignited a high-emotion dispute between Russia and Washington that has included U.S. sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators, a ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and calls for the closure of Russian non-governmental organizations receiving American funding.
Magnitsky was a lawyer for US-born British investor William Browder when he alleged in 2008 that organized criminals colluded with corrupt Interior Ministry officials to claim a fraudulent $230 million tax rebate after illegally seizing subsidiaries of Browder's Hermitage Capital investment company.
He subsequently was arrested on tax evasion charges and died in prison in November 2009 of untreated pancreatitis at age 37.
His death prompted widespread criticism from human rights activists and the presidential human rights council found in 2011 that he had been beaten and deliberately denied medical treatment.
Announcing his verdict Thursday, Judge Igor Alisov said "Magnitsky masterminded a massive tax evasion scheme in a ... conspiracy with a group of people," according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Browder, a strident critic of the lack of transparency at top Russian companies who has been banned from Russia since 2005 as a security threat, was also found guilty in absentia along with Magnitsky of evading some $17 million in taxes. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
"Today's verdict will go down in history as one of the most shameful moments for Russia since the days of Joseph Stalin," Browder said in a statement. "The worst part of today's verdict is the malicious pain that the Russian government is ready to inflict on the grieving family of a man who was killed for standing up to government corruption and police abuse."
Russia's top court ruled in 2011 that posthumous trials are allowed, with the intention of letting relatives clear their loved ones' names. But Magnitsky's relatives said they had no desire for such a proceeding. Instead, the trial of Magnitsky underlined Russia's strong resentment of foreign criticism of its human rights record.
The court said the verdict ends the case against Magnitsky, and his lawyer Nikolai Gerasimov said he had no authority to try for an appeal. Kirill Goncharov, the court-appointed attorney for Browder, told ITAR-Tass that "undoubtedly, today's verdict will be appealed."
Russia's top investigative body in March closed its probe into Magnitsky's death, finding that no crimes were committed. A prison doctor charged with negligence in his death was acquitted in December.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks during a major protest rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 6, 2013. Up to 20,000 Russian opposition supporters gathered for a protest on Monday, venting anger against the Kremlin and demanding the release of political prisoners. The protest came exactly one year after a demonstration a day before President Vladimir Putins third presidential inauguration on the same square near the Kremlin ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina Yekaterina Samutsevich
In this Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, feminist punk group Pussy Riot members, from left, Yekaterina Samutsevich, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia. A Russian court is weighing Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 whether Maria Alekhina can serve the remainder of her two-year sentence when her 5-year-old son is 14. Alekhina is petitioning the court in Berezniki, a remote Ural mountains town near where she is serving her sentence. She was convicted last year along with two other band members of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an anti-President Vladimir Putin stunt in Russia's main cathedral. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File)
Leader of Russia's independent election monitoring group Golos, Lilya Shibanova, works in the Golos office in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. Russia on Wednesday explained its decision to put an end to the U.S. Agency for International Development's two decades of work in Russia by saying the U.S. government agency was using its money to influence elections. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
In this file photo dated Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, Maxim Luzyanin attends his trial on charges that he attacked riot police during a massive rally against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a district court in Moscow, Russia. A gym owner and bodybuilder, Maxim Luzyanin, was subdued with a taser and later pleaded guilty and paid for a policeman's dental repair before being sentenced to four and a half years in prison, over his involvement in the May 6, 2012 opposition protest. (AP Photo/Yevgeny Feldman, Novaya Gazeta)
In this Sunday, May 6, 2012 file photo, a Russian police officer detains protester Alexandra Dukhanina during an opposition rally in Moscow. Dukhanina was placed under house arrest on charges of assailing police by a court in Moscow. The youngest of the defendants, environmental activist Alexandra Dukhanina is one of the more than two dozen people who are facing criminal charges over the involvement in the May 6, 2012 opposition protest that ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. (AP Photo/Roustem Adagamov, File)
In this Monday, April 22, 2013 file photo, opposition activist Konstantin Lebedev charged with instigation of mass riots during last May's rally against Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin, listens to his lawyer in the Moscow City Court before a court session in Moscow, Russia. Lebedev pleaded guilty and testified against opposition leaders, including leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov. More than two dozen people are facing criminal charges over their alleged involvement in the May 6, 2012 opposition protest that ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. (AP Photo/Yevgeny Feldman, FILE)
In this photo taken Sunday, May 6, 2012, Denis Lutskevich, left, is detained by police during an opposition rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow. The former naval cadet and first-year student, 21-year-old Lutskevich was attending his first protest when he was detained, and is still in prison Monday May 6, 2013, on the first year anniversary of the protest. Lutskevich is one of more than two dozen people who are still held, facing criminal charges over the involvement in the May 6, 2012 opposition protest that ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and police. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
In this May 6, 2012 file photo, a wounded opposition protester winces in pain during a rally in Moscow. Riot police in Moscow began arresting protesters who were trying to reach the Kremlin in a demonstration on the eve of Vladimir Putin's inauguration as president. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, File)
This Oct. 31, 2012, file photo, shows police officers detaining an opposition activist during an unsanctioned protest rally in St. Petersburg, Russia. Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have been rising. The countries have been at odds over Syrias civil war, Irans nuclear program and Russias crackdown on domestic opposition. U.S. officials are uneasy about what they see as a more assertive foreign policy by Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Russian presidency in May. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)