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Bill Browder: Magnitsky Act rattles Putin

Magnitsky Act architect Bill BrowderDuring the Helsinki summit Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered American investigators a chance to interview 12 indicted Russian intelligence agents in exchange for Russian access to Bill Browder.

Browder, the London-based CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, once the biggest foreign investor in Russia, wasn’t surprised.

“For the last ten years,” Browder said, “I’ve been trying to avoid getting killed by Putin’s regime. . . ”

Writing in Time magazine Monday, Browder said, “I’m lodged so firmly under Putin’s skin because I’m the person responsible for getting the Magnitsky Act passed in the United States in 2012. . . .”

The Magnitsky Act imposes sanctions on those responsible for the detention and death of 36-year-old Sergei Magnitsky.

Magnitsky, a lawyer in Moscow for Hermitage Capital, died in custody in 2009 after uncovering a $230 million tax fraud against the Russian treasury. His evidence implicated a number of Russian officials and mobsters.

The Russian government has said Magnitsky died of natural causes while in jail.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has publicly listed 49 people subject to travel bans and asset freezes under the Magnitsky Act.

OFAC hasn’t named Putin. But some of his close associates are on the list.

Russia put Browder on trial in absentia in 2013 for tax evasion. A court in Moscow found him guilty and imposed a sentence of nine years in prison and a $48 million fine.

In May, Browder said Russia has requested six red notices against him and the requests are still open. Red notices are international arrest warrants issued through Interpol.

Browder said Monday that “Putin has made it perhaps his largest foreign policy priority to have the Magnitsky Act repealed. But none of his efforts have worked.”

“Not only has it not been repealed, it’s spread to six additional countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the Baltic states and Gibraltar,” Browder said.

Other countries also considering their own Magnitsky Acts include Sweden, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, South Africa, and Ukraine, he said.

“The Magnitsky Act is going viral, and countries that have Magnitsky Acts are sanctioning Putin’s cronies, who I imagine soon will be sanctioned by other countries as well.”

In December 2016, the U.S. Congress adopted a broader version of the Magnitsky Act.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act gives the President the power to punish human rights violators and corrupt leaders from any country by banning them from travel to the United States and freezing their U.S. assets.

Browder said Putin’s offer to swap him for the 12 Russian agents “went to the wrong head of state.”

“Although I was born in America, I emigrated to the United Kingdom 29 years ago and am a British citizen,” Browder said.

“If he really wants me, he better go talk to Theresa May, who might have a few choice words for him after Russian agents spread the military-grade nerve agent Novichok across the cathedral town of Salisbury, England.”


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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1 Comment

  1. It is no doubt a fabulous achievement, this Magnitsky Act. Still, I find it puzzling how much it seems to rattle president Putin. Why does he spend so much political capital on trying to reverse it? It is almost embarassing for this strong political leader. Why does he not simply shrug it off? He must know how broad and firm the act's political support is here. Is it simply a matter of pride? Or are his cronies really that keen on traveling to the US? Or do they want to regain control over the assets frozen as a result? Or–and that is my speculation–is it because it so severely limits their possibilities for investing ill-gotten assets safely in the US and other financial centers within reach of the Magnitsky Act? To the extent it is the latter, how would this be perceived in Russia, if it were known? It would seem so ironic. Putin complains about lack of foreign investment in in Russia. But then he also grovels with his US counterpart so that his friends–all Russian patriots surely–be permitted to move their capital freely to the US. Perhaps this tells us something about how beholden Putin is to the kleptocratic clique around him, and possibly also about how members of this clique judge its stability.

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