William “Bill” Browder is an American born, naturalized British financier who has been convicted of fraud in Russia twice. He was detained in Geneva just recently while on the run from the Russian FSB. He was in Europe this week, giving news conferences about how he did business in Russia, but according to Rossiya 24 “Vesti” News, he conveniently neglected to talk about some things, like how Moscow has him under an extradition order because he swindled billions of rubles by creating fake companies and money laundering.
Many people may not be familiar with Mr. Browder, but they may recall the Magnitsky Act. This act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, is for the purpose of punishing Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Sergey Magnitsky, who was himself a Russian tax accountant who got put in prison in Russia and died while incarcerated there.
At this point the accounts of Mr. Browder and the Russian Federation diverge, and since the Russian version is written in Russian, it remains not immediately accessible to English-speaking and English-reading people in the West. The Russian and English language accounts are so different that the differences demand attention from the critical thinker.
The main point of divergence centers around the unfortunate case of Sergey Magnitsky himself.
Sergey Magnitsky was assasinated in a Russian prison because he discovered that Russian tax officials were involved in fraud. While in prison he developed gallstones, pancreatitis and calculous cholecystitis, and was refused medical treatment for months. After almost a year of imprisonment, he was reportedly beaten to death.
In an effort to punish the people who facilitated (Browder claims orchestrated) Magnitsky’s death, he lobbied the US Congress (as a British citizen!) to get the “Magnitsky Act” passed to punish the Russian “human rights violators” who were responsible for the death of his friend, and former colleague who had represented Browder’s Hermitage Capital Management investment fund. This act has been expanded since its inception to give the US Congress a “legal” right to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.
Russian Government claim
There is much more to the story, even before Sergey Magnitsky’s name even arises.
The Russian government and Browder began to be at odds with one another starting in 2005, when Mr. Browder was detained at Sheremetyevo-2 Airport on November 13th immediately upon his arrival, and held for fifteen hours, before being put back on a plane to London. The official reason given for his refusal of admittance into the Russian Federation was that he was considered a national security risk, and so the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that under Article 27 of Russian Federal law on entry and exit, Browder was no longer allowed in the Russian Federation.
In 2005, Browder decided to get involved in the ownership structure of a company named Surgutneftegaz, run by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, but which was also frozen by order of the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky’s assets were frozen based on tax charges associated with fraud, which Khodorkovsky was charged with. Browder didn’t want this to happen to him, so he had all his employees relocate to the UK and the Hermitage Fund sold all the shares in Russian companies or transferred them elsewhere in the summer of 2006.
In 2007, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation came to the offices of Hermitage Capital and conducted searches. The charter documents and seals of several front, or “shell” companies through which Hermitage acted in Russia were removed. This action was all carried out in the framework of a criminal investigation.
The front companies, Parfenion LLC, Mahaon LLC and Ryland LLC were found to have improperly benefitted from the illegal return of some 5.4 billion rubles of profit tax. The first people to be discovered as participants in this crime were employees of the Firestone Duncan firm. This firm is a law firm that handled the affairs of the shell companies, and of course, Hermitage Capital. One of the lawyers there was Sergey Magnitsky.
The lawyers at Firestone Duncan had themselves initiated an investigation into the theft of Russian government funds, totalling about , and the list of participants in the crime grew to some 60 employees of various Russian executive bodies, most of whom continued (and may still be continuing to serve) in various ministries and departments of the Russian Federation.
However, it was discovered that the same criminal group regularly organized such crimes, which stole significant amounts of money from the Russian budget. On November 24th, 2008, Sergey Magnitsky himself was arrested on charges of helping William Browder in tax evasion.
In other words, Magnitsky is held by Moscow to have been aiding and abetting Browder in a tax evasion scheme that defrauded 5.4 billion rubles from the Russian Federation’s operating funds and budget. In these years, the ruble was worth quite a bit more than it is now, so this was a big cash haul.
Since Browder is no longer allowed in Russia, Russia has tried to go after him. There is a standing extradition order at present, and also, as recently as October, 2017, the Russian Federation put Mr. Browder unilaterally on Interpol’s search list.
The Russian story has a lot more details still; we have only given some. Yet, Mr. Browder considers himself safe in Europe, since neither the EU nor the US will extradite him to Moscow. However, according to Vesti news, Browder refuses to acknowledge US subpoena requests just as much as he evades Russian extradition attempts.
So, what, though? So he is a dishonest businessman. Why is this important?
There is another interesting piece to this story.
Video: President Vladimir Putin discusses the Browder – Magnitsky affair at October’s Valdai conference, with Western journalists present.
On July 27, 2017, Browder testified to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election. He testified regarding the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Fusion GPS.
Browder directly discussed President Vladimir Putin, saying that he is “the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world.” This, apparently, is accomplished by Putin’s threatening Russian oligarchs and getting a 50% cut of their profits. Browder went on to say this:
I estimate that [President Putin] has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.
…I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests. I also hope that this story and others like it may lead to a change in the FARA enforcement regime in the future.”
So, in other words, this offers a bit of motive perhaps for why the election of Donald Trump is such a hot issue with some people. Browder has cast Vladimir Putin as a mega-oligarch, and has portrayed this situation as that of Putin trying in any way possible to take apart the Magnitsky Act, because it affects his vast wealth which is held in western banks.
However, Russia’s FSB is not without abilities to remind Mr. Browder that all is not just smooth sailing. They got the Geneva authorities to stop him and to discuss confidential matters with them a the request of the FSB. He has presently at least 22 years worth of prison time from in absentia convictions, and the more one investigates the man’s life, the more wily he is revealed to be.
This piece only scratches the surface. We plan to discuss this issue much more, because there is much more to discuss.
And to think that his words have been marching orders for the US’ propaganda and slander campaign against Russia since at least as early as 2012, and continuing through today. While Vesti has its own rather sensationalist feeling about this story, research beyond Vesti through Russian entries on Magnitsky and Browder and Yukos in Wikipedia reveal that there is a lot going on here, and that this is not likely to be the tale of an intrepid and honest businessman, but in the words of Yury Chaika, Prosecuter General of Russia:
I call him Yasha Browder. He has Moscow roots. He has a dark personality, he’s an international level criminal, a schemer.”
One wonders: where is Robert Mueller now??