Monthly Archives: February 2013

Esther Bintliff


(AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATED 11/07/13: After a number of delays, a Moscow court convicted Sergei Magnitsky ‘in absentia’ on July 11 of tax evasion.

In the next few months, Russian prosecutors plan to put a man on trial. Two things make the case important. First, the man is a whistleblower, a lawyer who was jailed after he had publicly accused interior ministry officials of tax fraud amounting to $230m. Second, he is dead.

Amnesty International argues that the posthumous prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky violates his fundamental rights even in death, “in particular the right to defend himself in person.

Is it even legal to try someone once they’ve died? The key question is whether the trial is criminal, or civil, says William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University. “You can sue a dead person in a civil court – you can sue their estate. But the point of a criminal prosecution is to put them in jail. To my knowledge you can’t hold a criminal trial once someone has died – although I can’t rule out the fact that a perverse justice system could create such a possibility.”

Marie-Aimee Brajeux at Queen Mary’s Criminal Justice Centre, University of London, agrees. “The objective of a criminal trial is to hold someone accountable for what they’ve done wrong and punish them for it. In that case, the defendant has to be alive and no action can be brought against them once they’re dead, especially as they can’t defend themselves.”

Until very recently, it was impossible in Russia to bring criminal proceedings against a dead person – so the case against Magnitsky was closed 13 days after he died. But in 2011, a Constitutional Court ruling allowed that criminal proceedings could be continued after someone’s death, if the deceased person’s relatives insisted on it. This is the basis on which the case against Magnitsky appears to have been reopened – despite the fact that his mother is strongly against the reopening of the case.

As you can imagine, trials of people who have already died are pretty rare – but not unprecedented.

The Pope Formosus, pope from 891 to 896, was posthumously tried by his political enemies in the so-called Cadaver Synod – “one of the most bizarre incidents in papal history.” Read more

A meteorite trail above a residential apartment block in Chelyabinsk (Getty)

Russia sent thousands of rescue workers to help the people injured by a meteorite that shot across central Russia today. The fireballs crashed to the ground just as people were heading to work, but luckily, fears about the behavior of psychotic Russian drivers means there was no shortage of video footage to capture the moment that it landed.

Of course, this isn’t the first time a large body of rock has made a dramatic entrance into our atmosphere. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Keep out – at least until the referendum (Getty)

The British government is said to be deeply concerned about the prospect of heavy migration into the UK from Bulgaria and Romania after restrictions on free movement of labour are lifted at the end of the year. I can understand why. David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU after the next election. Under current circumstances, the Brits would probably vote to stay inside the Union. But a surge of unpopular migration from Bulgaria and Romania could really poison sentiment ahead of the vote.

To be fair, even Migration Watch, the anti-immigration ginger group, is estimating that just 50,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will move when restrictions are lifted. Such a relatively small number could be absorbed into London without much fuss. The trouble is that experience with Polish migration proves all such estimates to be futile. Back in 2004, the UK government estimated that net migration from Poland and the other new member states would probably be in the order of 13,000 a year. In the event, more than 500,000 Poles are thought to have moved to the UK – although many move backwards and forwards. Read more

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Esther Bintliff

Half of all world exports are from the US and Europe. Added together, the two constitute the largest, wealthiest market in the world, accounting for over 54% of world GDP in terms of value and 40% in terms of purchasing power. There are many reasons why a trade deal between the two makes sense in the minds of both policymakers and business-owners (a successful pact would boost growth and jobs in both regions, and offer the US and EU a better chance of standing up to an increasingly powerful China, for example).

So why are negotiators working on the deal probably in for the long haul? One reason is that there are some culturally sensitive areas for both regions – in particular, agriculture and food. Here are some potential sticking points:

For US exporters trying to get their products into the EU –

For EU exporters trying to get their products into the US –
  • Buy America. The US fiscal stimulus of 2009 restricted bidding on iron and steel contracts so that only US producers could take part, or producers from countries with a ‘reciprocal government procurement agreement’

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How dangerous is North Korea’s nuclear test?
Within hours of the North Korean nuclear test this week, the UN security council was meeting in emergency session. But how dangerous is this development, and what is likely to happen next? James Blitz, diplomatic and defence editor, Christian Oliver, former Seoul correspondent, and Simon Mundy, the current FT correspondent in Korea, join Gideon Rachman.

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James Blitz

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April 2010. (JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama and Medvedev signing the 2010 treaty (Getty)

Can Barack Obama use his second term of office to push through another round of cuts in American and Russian nuclear weapons? After declaring in his State of the Union address that he will “engage Russia” on this issue, the question is suddenly back on the international security agenda.

In his first presidential term, President Obama and his then Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev pushed through big cuts in the number of deployed nuclear weapons each side possesses, with each pledging to have no more than 1,550 each by 2018. Now, Mr Obama has come back to the issue and says he wants to do more – with his officials indicating they want to see deployed US and Russian nuclear weapons coming down another third – to around 1,000 on either side.

Discussions about US- Russia arms control are very technical and the detail quickly gets mind-boggling. To the outsider, the subject also seems dispiriting. Even a big cut like the one Mr Obama is proposing would still leave both countries with massive capability to destroy each other and the world. Still, there are a number of reasons why Mr Obama’s attempt to get new cuts is worth attention in the months ahead. Read more

"DOLY-COM" abattoir, one of the two Romanian companies exporting horse meat to EU countries (Getty)

An emerging scandal about horsemeat found in processed foods has raised questions over European regulators’ ability to monitor the food industry. With the recession creating a glut of horsemeat in Ireland, two UK plants being raided and fingers being pointed at the Romanian abattoir, the trail of responsibility is complex and tangled.

Whether the recent horsemeat incidents were a result of long supply chains or criminal activity, this isn’t the first time food control and regulation has been a hot topic. Read more