News compilation with full background, New Cold War.org, Oct 25, 2017
Introduction by New Cold War.org:
In 2013, a Russian court convicted the former U.S. citizen-become UK citizen Bill Browder of tax fraud in absentia. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. Browder was denied further entry to Russia in 2005 as the country clamped down on the doings of international financiers. As a result of his international campaigning in Western countries in recent years for economic sanctions against Russia, the Russian government and courts appear no longer willing to turn a blind eye to his status as a fugitive from Russian law. They have requested to Interpol that he be extradicted to Russia. The request is under review by the global police agency. In the meantime, his right to unhindered international travel has been lifted by countries, including the U.S.
Browder was a finance capitalist in Russia during the ‘wild west’ years of the 1990s and early 2000s, a time when former state enterprises from the era of the Soviet Union were privatized. The accession by Vladimir Putin to the Russian prime ministership in 1999 followed by his first election as president in 2000 commenced a process of curbing the wild excesses and illegalities of investors and businessmen in Russia. For that, Putin earned the unending animosity of many finance capitalists, Russian and international alike.
Browder and his supporters recently convinced the Canadian government to levy additional sanctions against Russian government and business officials. Canada’s own ‘Magnitsky Act’ was unanimously approved by the House of Commons and by the country’s unelected Senate in October 2017.
Canada’s Globe and Mail daily has taken great exception to Russia’s Interpol warrant against Bill Browder. A news article on October 24 presented a sympathetic treatment of Browder’s side of the story, painting him as a victim of a vengeful Russian government. The same day, a leading columnist in the newspaper, Campbell Clark, penned a column describing Russia’s extradittion request as “wacky”. Also on the same day, Globe editors published an editorial calling for Russia to be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea. The editorial took a broad, Donald Trump-style swipe at the International Olympic Committee, writing, “The presence of Russian athletes at the games in South Korea will only further cement the IOC’s reputation for corruption, and tarnish the games themselves.”
Russia puts Bill Browder on Interpol wanted list, blocking travel
Hermitage Capital Management founder William Browder said Russia put him on Interpol’s wanted list last week, its latest move to undermine the American-born fund manager’s global campaign against Russia over the death of his legal and tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky.
Browder, a British citizen since giving up his U.S. citizenship in 1998, said he’d received an email from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notifying him his “global entry status” had been removed. He also found out his visa waiver for the U.S. had been revoked after Russia added him to the Interpol list using a loophole known as a “diffusion notice,” which allows countries to issue arrest warrants unilaterally without vetting from the organization. Interpol rejected four previous Russian attempts to put Browder on its wanted list.
“I hope it will be overturned,” Browder said. “Russia is abusing Interpol consistently for political purposes.” He said he can’t leave the UK until the issue is resolved.
Interpol didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. A spokesman for Russia’s Prosecutor General couldn’t immediately be reached. The agency in August said it would continue to seek to have Browder put on the Interpol list as he’s been convicted in absentia in Russia [in July 2013] of tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Browder scored a victory in his campaign against Russia last week when Canada became the latest country to pass a “Magnitsky Act,” which imposes travel bans and asset freezes against individuals believed to be involved in human rights abuses in Russia. On Thursday [Oct 19], Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at Browder and Canada’s passage of its Magnitsky Act [text of V Putin’s comments here].
“These are all not-very-constructive political games,” Putin said at the annual conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, held in Sochi, Russia. “What lies underneath these events? Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name.”
Ever since Magnitsky died in prison in 2009, Browder has led a campaign to persuade countries around the world to adopt sanctions on a list of Russian officials believed to be responsible. In 2012, the U.S. passed the first Magnitsky Act, followed by the UK, Estonia and now Canada.
In addition to the earlier conviction, Russia is trying Browder now for more charges of fraud and tax evasion.
Russian prosecutors also suspect that Browder himself arranged Magnitsky’s death in a Russian jail, colluding with an agent of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, to prevent him from getting medical care in prison, according to a Russian government document from 2016.
Browder dismissed the latest allegations as “absurd.”
Moscow court sentences Magnitsky’s boss Browder to nine years in prison
Hermitage Capital co-founder and CEO William Browder may face nine years in prison if he ever crosses Russia’s border: a Moscow court found him and Hermitage Capital auditor Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion. Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court has sentenced Hermitage Capital co-founder and CEO William Browder to nine years in prison after finding him guilty of tax evasion in absentia.
In addition, the court closed the case against Hermitage Capital auditor Sergei Magnitsky, who died at a detention center in 2009. Because he has also been found guilty of tax evasion, the court denied his rehabilitation.
According to Judge Igor Alisov, who presided over the hearing, the Browder-Magnitsky trial is justified and legal despite the fact that one of the defendants didn’t attend the hearing and the other was dead. “Magnitsky claimed that his criminal prosecution was a repressive measure and did not plead guilty. At the same time, Magnitsky’s guilt was confirmed by the evidence examined in the proceedings,” the sentence read.
The court questioned the testimony Magnitsky gave during the pre-trial investigation, in which he stated that the company was granted tax breaks legally and that it actually did employ people with disabilities, who were paid salaries.
According to the prosecutor, as an auditor, Magnitsky invented a scheme to evade taxes following Browder’s instructions, and the latter was aware of the tax breaks the firm had been granted unlawfully and signed fake documents. An Interfax source said earlier that if Browder were to be convicted, Russia would immediately send an extradition request to the United Kingdom.
“As soon as Browder is convicted and the sentence takes legal effect, [Russia] will send an inquiry to London, where he is actually residing, to demand his extradition to enforce the court ruling,” the source said. “The Western justice system is usually very skeptical about extradition requests from investigative bodies, but treats inquiries that are based on court rulings with great confidence.”
“As soon as a sentence is handed down on the American businessman in absentia, his international legal status will change significantly,” the source added. Browder will be put on the international “wanted” list and this will significantly limit his ability to move around the world, the source claimed.
A defense attorney for Magnitsky’s mother considers the auditor’s trial and conviction on tax evasion charges unlawful. “We see the proceedings as unlawful, we are not participating in them, and I will not comment on it,” lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov, representing Magnitsky’s mother, told Interfax.
At the same time, the prosecution is satisfied with the conviction of Magnitsky and Browder. “The prosecution is content with the judgment and it complies with the law,” Prosecutor Mikhail Reznichenko told journalists. In his opinion, the case against Magnitsky was justifiably heard in his absence, as his relatives disagreed with closing the case for non-rehabilitation reasons.
Even though they did not formally ask for the investigation to be reopened, the prosecution perceived numerous interviews by his relatives, in which they insisted on his innocence, as such a desire.
Reznichenko said that, as a court earlier sanctioned Browder’s arrest in absentia, he would be arrested immediately upon crossing the Russian border.
The Tverskoi District Court took up the case against Browder and Magnitsky on December 10, 2012. The two had been indicted on charges of tax evasion amounting to over 522 million rubles ($16 million) obtained through the falsification of tax declarations and illegally taking advantage of tax breaks intended for the disabled.
According to the court’s statement, Browder had to be tried in absentia “as he is showing reluctance to appear before the investigative body, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has refused to uphold international legal cooperation norms with Russia on this matter.”
Magnitsky died at a Moscow pre-trial detention facility on November 16, 2009. The tax evasion case against Magnitsky was closed but later reopened based on a Constitutional Court ruling to the effect that the closure of the case was unconstitutional and violated the presumption of the innocence principle.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the case must be reopened if the defendants’ representatives so demand. Attorneys for Magnitsky’s mother protested the reopening of the case, arguing that this was not done at their request.
Moscow’s Ostankinsky Court ruled on April 3, 2013, that the reopening of the criminal case against Magnitsky was legal even though the defendant was dead. The court took into account that, in making this decision, the Prosecutor General’s Office had been motivated by numerous complaints by Magnitsky’s mother in her interviews with the press, during which she insisted on her son’s legal rehabilitation. The Moscow City Court upheld this decision and ignored the complaint made by Magnitsky’s family.
Court finds Magnitsky, Browder guilty of tax evasion
A district court in Moscow has ruled both the fugitive boss of the Hermitage Capital investment company and its late auditor guilty of tax evasion. According to the verdict, the two suspects failed to pay over 552 million rubles in taxes (about US$16 million).
At the same time, the court ordered to stop the case against Magnitsky in connection with his death. The former head of the investment fund, British citizen William Browder was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Browder was sentenced in absentia as he fled Russia when the probe into his activities just started and resides in UK, which has no extradition agreement with Russia.
The Magnitsky trial was the first against a deceased person in modern Russian history. The auditor died in a pre-trial detention center in Moscow in 2009. The cause of death was acute pancreatitis and heart condition and prison doctors were brought to justice in connection with this incident.
After his death, former colleagues and bosses claimed that Magnitsky had uncovered a major fraud scheme masterminded by Russian tax officials and law enforcers who put the accountant in prison to silence him. Russian investigators, in turn, claim Magnitsky’s statements were not reports about crimes, but a testimony within the criminal case that had been already opened against him and his bosses.
Magnitsky’s relatives insisted on his innocence and eventually the case was re-opened, as recent changes in Russian law only allow the closure of cases in connection with suspects’ deaths if all their relatives consent to it. Magnitsky’s relatives did not officially agree to the case’s closure as they and their lawyers were boycotting the process, claiming it was illegitimate.
Prosecutors pressed additional charges against Browder earlier this year, accusing him of illegally buying shares in the country’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
Magnitsky’s death and trial sparked an international scandal and led to a major strain in Russia-U.S. relations when, in late 2012, the United States introduced the so-called Magnitsky Act – a law imposing sanctions on some Russian civil servants involved in the case.
Russia blasted the move as an attempt to influence justice in a sovereign country and replied by adopting the similar Guantanamo List – a set of sanctions against foreign officials suspected of violating Human Rights or the rights of Russian citizens who were detained and tried abroad.
In the latest developments, British mass media reported this week that UK could also introduce sanctions against Russian citizens connected with the Magnitsky case. However, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented that the Russian side was unaware of any such measures.
Putin: Magnitsky’s death a ‘tragedy,’ no malice involved
President Vladimir Putin has stressed that Sergey Magnitsky’s death was not due to malicious intent. The Council of Judges also ruled the US ‘Magnitsky List’ was politicized and groundless, as the U.S. had no access to documents relevant to the case.
“Investigators concluded that there was no malicious intent, or criminal negligence in Magnitsky’s death. It was just a tragedy,” Putin said in an interview with TV channel Russia-1. “One might think no deaths occur in U.S. prisons.”
Washington published the names on the ‘Magnitsky List’ on April 12. The U.S. has accused those named on the list of being responsible for the death of financial lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, 37, in pre-trial detention in Moscow in November 2009.
The blacklist published on the US Treasury Department’s website includes the names 18 people from Russia and CIS countries who are banned from entering the US, and whose assets were frozen under the Sergey Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.
The Council of Judges in Moscow examined the decision to publish the list, and to include the names of Russian judges connected to the Magnitsky trial. “There was no reason for U.S. to include the Russian judges on the list,” the Council concluded.
“We strongly criticized this so-called ‘Magnitsky List.’ …It unfairly tarnished the credibility of the Russian judiciary and specifically the reputation of each of the judges who made the decision in the case,” Deputy Chair of the Moscow City Court Galina Agafonova told reporters.
Agafonova questioned Washington’s evidence, since “all of the documents surrounding Magnitsky’s case are still in court”and have never been made public. “I believe that this story is political and the justice system has absolutely nothing to do with it. We support our colleagues’ decisions and believe that they followed the law,”she added.
‘US list violates international law’
Russian officials on the ‘Magnitsky list’ have vowed that the blacklist’s publication was politically motivated and not objective, RT’s Madina Kochenova reported.
Moscow’s position on the matter was summed up by Interior Affairs chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev: “The decisions taken by foreign governments will not carry any legal consequences for Russian citizens.” Kolokoltsev went on to thank the investigators, and told them that the U.S. publication will have no impact on their reputation or life, since the Magnitsky List has no legal authority in Russia, and only represents an attempt at political pressure.
“The fact that I am included will have no effect on my life, I do not have a passport or any assets in U.S. or outside of Russia,” investigator Oleg Silchenko told reporters, adding that he believes the list “violates basic international laws.”
“The Magnitsky List is an attack on the part of William Browder [head of the UK-based Hermitage Capital fund], who a Moscow court has authorized the arrest in absentia after he refused to cooperate with the Russian investigation,” Silchenko said.
Investigators suspect that Browder, a U.S.-born businessman with UK citizenship, masterminded a stock-buying scheme that cost Russia at least 3 billion rubles (over $100 million). His company allegedly used several Russian firms registered in tax havens to purchase shares of the natural gas monopoly Gazprom for foreign investors between 2001 and 2004.
According to investigators, Browder never received clearance from the Russian Federal Commission for Securities for the move. Investigator Natalia Vinogradova, also included on the list, said that she has never been abroad and believes the Magnitsky List is a “complete sham and has no legal basis here in Russia.”
In response to the Magnitsky List, Russia has released a list naming 18 U.S. citizens banned from entering the Russian Federation over alleged human rights violations. The Russian list consists of two parts: The first names those involved in human rights violations and legalized torture at the Guantanamo detention facility, and the second names those responsible for human rights violations against Russian citizens abroad.
There are reports that both the Russian and U.S. lists are only short versions, and that an extended version of the US list includes some high-level Russian government officials that could not be revealed over security concerns.
The Magnitsky Act
The U.S. law – also known as the Magnitsky Act – imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s death and other human rights abuses in Russia. Top Russian officials have repeatedly blasted the Magnistky Act as an attempt to subvert the laws of a sovereign country, and as exploiting a human tragedy for political ends.
The original version of the Magnitsky List included 60 names, with some proposing to extend it to some 280 blacklisted citizens of Russia. The latest – and the largest – version was handed to the Obama administration by Representative James P. McGovern, who threatened to lobby for a harsher law if the White House refuses to enact the existing list.
At the time of his death, Magnitsky worked for British investment fund Hermitage Capital, headed by William Browder. In 2007, the company became embroiled in a wide-ranging tax evasion scandal. Magnitsky, who insisted that the money had been embezzled by a group of security service and tax officials, was arrested on suspicions of assisting the firm with evading taxes, and housed in a Moscow detention center to await trial.
In November 2009, almost a year after his initial detention, Magnitsky died of what medics identified as a heart attack. His family demanded an investigation into the circumstances of his death, claiming he had been denied medical help. Magnitsky supporters claimed that he had been tortured to extract a confession and to withdraw his accusations.
In March 2013, the criminal case into Magnitsky’s death was closed due to the “absence of a crime,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said. Magnitsky’s family said they will appeal the decision.