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Court reopens hearing into Hermitage corruption claims

A Moscow court reopened a hearing into the alleged theft of three companies from Hermitage Capital as part of a larger alleged scheme to swindle the authorities out of millions of dollars in false tax rebates on Tuesday, only to immediately adjourn it for a week, reports AFP.

The case studies claims by the US investment fund that corporate raiders in the form of police and tax officials stole the three companies and used them to falsely claim $230m in back taxes. The most tragic consequence of the case was the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009 whilst in prison.

The hearing was picked up by the 10th Arbitration Court of Appeal in Moscow on Tuesday, but adjourned the case until April 26. An employee of Hermitage - which has run a high profile campaign to push its case - claimed by phone: "This means that (the three firms) are now technically recognised as belonging to Hermitage."

Barrons magazine reported last week that the interior ministry has claimed in its defence that all documents relating to the contested money were in a truck that crashed and exploded in 2008.

Hermitage has taken up filmmaking as part of its fight, having distributed three installments explaining its side of the case. The last of these was released at the weekend and accused tax official Olga Stepanova and associates of transferring the false tax claim in one day. The film says the woman's husband received $11m in two secret Credit Suisse accounts in Zurich shortly afterwards. Credit Suisse has denied any knowledge of involvement in the alleged embezzlement scheme.

The woman allegedly responsible for organising the tax refund now works in a state company in charge of military procurements -- an opaque organisation which President Dmitry Medvedev wants to see reformed.

"This is the amazing thing: it is clear that neither Medvedev nor (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin touched these 5.4 billion rubles," observed Russian anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny. "But (they) do not have the political power to bring to justice obvious thieves and killers," he added in a blog post.

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