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Russian court postpones hearing in whistleblower's case

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Moscow court postponed a preliminary hearing on Monday in the posthumous trial of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, whose death in custody has damaged Russia's image and strained ties with the United States.

The court appointed a legal team to defend Magnitsky during the trial after his family and lawyers refused to attend Monday's hearing because they say the case is politically motivated.

Magnitsky was 37 when he died after 358 days in jail on suspicion of tax evasion and fraud, during which he said he was denied treatment as his health declined.

"Today's preliminary court hearing was moved to February 18 ... because Magnitsky's defence team did not show up. And the judge, in order to observe the principle of equality (before the law), appointed a defense," said court spokeswoman Alexandra Berezina.

Russian authorities said Magnitsky died of a heart attack. But his former employer, investment fund Hermitage Capital, says he was killed because he was investigating a $230 million theft by law enforcement and tax officials.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heiortage)

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