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‘Who must go, Mr. Cameron?’, asks Assad

Vladimir Rodzianko

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The Magnitsky affair: the confession of a hustled hack

A Cypriot journalist’s confession of how he too fell for the wrong account of the Magnitsky Affair

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Before getting down to brass tacks, let me say that I loathe penning articles like this; loathe writing about myself or in the first person, because a reporter should report the news, not be the news. Yet I grudgingly make this exception because, ironically, it happens to be newsworthy. To cut to the chase, it concerns Anglo-American financier Bill Browder and the Sergei Magnitsky affair. I, like others in the news business I’d venture to guess, feel led astray by Browder.

This is no excuse. I didn’t do my due diligence, and take full responsibility for erroneous information printed under my name. For that, I apologize to readers. I refer to two articles of mine published in a Cypriot publication, dated December 25, 2015 and January 6, 2016.

Browder’s basic story, as he has told it time and again, goes like this: in June 2007, Russian police officers raided the Moscow offices of Browder’s firm Hermitage, confiscating company seals, certificates of incorporation, and computers.

Browder says the owners and directors of Hermitage-owned companies were subsequently changed, using these seized documents. Corrupt courts were used to create fake debts for these companies, which allowed for the taxes they had previously paid to the Russian Treasury to be refunded to what were now re-registered companies. The funds stolen from the Russian state were then laundered through banks and shell companies.

The scheme is said to have been planned earlier in Cyprus by Russian law enforcement and tax officials in cahoots with criminal elements. All this was supposedly discovered by Magnitsky, whom Browder had tasked with investigating what happened. When Magnitsky reported the fraud, some of the nefarious characters involved had him arrested and jailed. He refused to retract, and died while in pre-trial detention.

In my first article, I wrote: “Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian accountant, died in jail in 2009 after he exposed huge tax embezzlement…”

False. Contrary to the above story that has been rehashed countless times, Magnitsky did not expose any tax fraud, did not blow the whistle.

The interrogation reports show that Magnitsky had in fact been summoned by Russian authorities as a witness to an already ongoing investigation into Hermitage. Nor he did he accuse Russian investigators Karpov and/or Kuznetsov of committing the $230 million treasury fraud, as Browder claims.

Magnitsky did not disclose the theft. He first mentioned it in testimony in October 2008. But it had already been reported in the New York Times on July 24, 2008.

In reality, the whistleblower was a certain Rimma Starova. She worked for one of the implicated shell companies and, having read in the papers that authorities were investigating, went to police to give testimony in April 2008 – six months before Magnitsky spoke of the scam for the first time (see here and here).

Why, then, did I report that about Magnitsky? Because at the time my sole source for the story was Team Browder, who had reached out to the Cyprus Mail and with whom I communicated via email. I was provided with ‘information’, flow charts and so on. All looking very professional and compelling.

At the time of the first article, I knew next to nothing about the Magnitsky/Browder affair. I had to go through media reports to get the gist, and then get up to speed with Browder’s latest claims that a Cypriot law firm, which counted the Hermitage Fund among its clients, had just been ‘raided’ by Cypriot police.

The article had to be written and delivered on the same day. In retrospect I should have asked for more time – a lot more time – and Devil take the deadlines.

For the second article, I conversed briefly on the phone with the soft-spoken Browder himself, who handed down the gospel on the Magnitsky affair. Under the time constraints, and trusting that my sources could at least be relied upon for basic information which they presented as facts, I went along with it.

I was played. But let’s be clear: I let myself down too.

In the ensuing weeks and months, I didn’t follow up on the story as my gut told me something was wrong: villains and malign actors operating in a Wild West Russia, and at the centre of it all, a heroic Magnitsky who paid with his life – the kind of script that Hollywood execs would kill for.

Subsequently I mentally filed away the Browder story, while being aware it was in the news.

But the real red pill was a documentary by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, which came to my attention a few weeks ago.

Titled ‘The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes’, it does a magisterial job of depicting how the director initially took Browder’s story on faith, only to end up questioning everything.

The docudrama dissects, disassembles and dismantles Browder’s narrative, as Nekrasov – by no means a Putin apologist – delves deeper down into the rabbit hole.

The director had set out to make a poignant film about Magnitsky’s tragedy, but became increasingly troubled as the facts he uncovered didn’t stack up with Browder’s account, he claims.

The ‘aha’ moment arrives when Nekrasov appears to show solid proof that Magnitsky blew no whistle.

Not only that, but in his depositions – the first one dating to 2006, well before Hermitage’s offices were raided – Magnitsky did not accuse any police officers of being part of the ‘theft’ of Browder’s companies and the subsequent alleged $230m tax rebate fraud.

The point can’t be stressed enough, as this very claim is the lynchpin of Browder’s account. In his bestseller Red Notice, Browder alleges that Magnitsky was arrested because he exposed two corrupt police officers, and that he was jailed and tortured because he wouldn’t retract.

We are meant to take Browder’s word for it.

It gets worse for Nekrasov, as he goes on to discover that Magnitsky was no lawyer. He did not have a lawyer’s license. Rather, he was an accountant/auditor who worked for Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan.

Yet every chance he gets, Browder still refers to Magnitsky as ‘a lawyer’ or ‘my lawyer’.

The clincher comes late in the film, with footage from Browder’s April 15, 2015 deposition in a US federal court, in the Prevezon case. The case, brought by the US Justice Department at Browder’s instigation, targeted a Russian national who Browder said had received $1.9m of the $230m tax fraud.

In the deposition, Browder is asked if Magnitsky had a law degree in Russia. “I’m not aware that he did,” he replies.

The full deposition, some six hours long, is (still) available on Youtube. As penance for past transgressions, I watched it in its entirety. While refraining from using adjectives to describe it, I shall simply cite some examples and let readers decide on Browder’s credibility.

Browder seems to suffer an almost total memory blackout as a lawyer begins firing questions at him. He cannot recall, or does not know, where he or his team got the information concerning the alleged illicit transfer of funds from Hermitage-owned companies.

This is despite the fact that the now-famous Powerpoint presentations – hosted on so many ‘anti-corruption’ websites and recited by ‘human rights’ NGOs – were prepared by Browder’s own team.

Nor does he recall where, or how, he and his team obtained information on the amounts of the ‘stolen’ funds funnelled into companies. When it’s pointed out that in any case this information would be privileged – banking secrecy and so forth – Browder appears to be at a loss.

According to Team Browder, in 2007 the ‘Klyuev gang’ together with Russian interior ministry officials travelled to Cyprus, ostensibly to set up the tax rebate scam using shell companies.

But in his deposition, the Anglo-American businessman cannot remember, or does not know, how his team obtained the travel information of the conspirators.

He can’t explain how they acquired the flight records and dates, doesn’t have any documentation at hand, and isn’t aware if any such documentation exists.

Browder claims his ‘Justice for Magnitsky’ campaign, which among other things has led to US sanctions on Russian persons, is all about vindicating the young man. Were that true, one would have expected Browder to go out of his way to aid Magnitsky in his hour of need.

The deposition does not bear that out.

Lawyer: “Did anyone coordinate on your behalf with Firestone Duncan about the defence of Mr Magnitsky?”

Browder: “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Going back to Nekrasov’s film, a standout segment is where the filmmaker looks at a briefing document prepared by Team Browder concerning the June 2007 raid by Russian police officers. In it, Browder claims the cops beat up Victor Poryugin, a lawyer with the firm.

The lawyer was then “hospitalized for two weeks,” according to Browder’s presentation, which includes a photo of the beaten-up lawyer. Except, it turns out the man pictured is not Poryugin at all. Rather, the photo is actually of Jim Zwerg, an American human rights activist beaten up during a street protest in 1961 (see here and here).

Nekrasov sits down with German politician Marieluise Beck. She was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace), which compiled a report that made Magnitsky a cause celebre.

You can see Beck’s jaw drop when Nekrasov informs her that Magnitsky did not report the fraud, that he was in fact under investigation.

It transpires that Pace, as well as human rights activists, were getting their information from one source – Browder. Later, the Council of Europe’s Andreas Gross admits on camera that their entire investigation into the Magnitsky affair was based on Browder’s info and that they relied on translations of Russian documents provided by Browder’s team because, as Gross puts it, “I don’t speak Russian myself.”

That hit home – I, too, had been fed information from a single source, not bothering to verify it. I, too, initially went with the assumption that because Russia is said to be a land of endemic corruption, then Browder’s story sounded plausible if not entirely credible.

For me, the takeaway is this gem from Nekrasov’s narration: “I was regularly overcome by deep unease. Was I defending a system that killed Magnitsky, even if I’d found no proof that he’d been murdered?”

Bull’s-eye. Nekrasov has arrived at a crossroads, the moment where one’s mettle is tested: do I pursue the facts wherever they may lead, even if they take me out of my comfort zone? What is more important: the truth, or the narrative? Nekrasov chose the former. As do I.

Like with everything else, specific allegations must be assessed independently of one’s general opinion of the Russian state. They are two distinct issues. Say Browder never existed; does that make Russia a paradise?

I suspect Team Browder may scrub me from their mailing list; one can live with that.


“The author would like to thank investigative reporter Lucy Komisar for her invaluable assistance.”

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Tucker Carlson EVISCERATES Stormy Daniels’ creepy lawyer (VIDEO)

Tucker Carlson refuses to let “Creepy Porn Lawyer” Michael Avenatti get away with his hypocritical rhetoric on Tucker’s program.

Seraphim Hanisch

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“Creepy Porn Lawyer” is the nickname that Tucker Carlson gave Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing the porn star who goes by the name “Stormy Daniels”, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Ms. Clifford, as “Stormy”, made a name for herself after the election of President Trump, by alleging that the now-president had relations with her back in 2006, shortly after Mr. Trump married Melania.

This revelation was against the agreement Trump’s attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, had made with the actress, paying her about $130,000 in “hush money.”

Ms. Clifford opted to disregard this agreement, since it had value as sensationalism paparazzi style “news”, and Mr. Avenatti represented her in this effort. But now, Avenatti has gone further, making a name for himself and even postulating the idea of running for President himself.

His own publicity in fact, has surged far past his client’s, with multiple TV spots on CNN and other mainstream media and cable networks.

Tucker Carlson dubbed him “Creepy Porn Lawyer”, to which Avenatti obviously took exception, while not changing a whit of his own doings. In this session, though, Mr. Carlson agreed not to call Mr. Avenatti “Creepy Porn Lawyer” if Avenatti would come on Tucker’s program for an interview. That interview is shown here:

Tucker was clearly determined not to let Avenatti get away with saying nonsense, but in the same sense, there was so much more that could have been done. One of the greatest pieces of hypocrisy Tucker did address, which was the matter of “Stormy Daniels” actually being used by the attorney to bolster his own fame, whilst the actress continued to perform and began getting in trouble.

Mr. Avenatti tried, rather absurdly, to pull the morality card as a foundation for his side of the argument, saying that it is immoral behavior for the President to cheat on his wife and young son, Barron. However, this wasn’t flying either. Even by saying such a thing on national television, this allegation, true or not is an outrage against the President’s family. And again, Avenatti was trying to use the Mr. Trump’s behavior against him to try to seal the Left’s connection that Trump is immoral, and thus unfit for presidency.

Of course… Bill Clinton comes to mind as the poster child for moral behavior as president, whose wife lost in 2008 and 2016 in her own bid. Of course, the left is into all manner of support for identity politics, which have created anywhere from ten to thirty “gender” identifications for people who are simply mentally ill and do not want to take responsibility for themselves.

While much of this interview is more of a near-shouting match rather than a discussion and dispassionate debate, lovers of Mr. Carlson will certainly feel that he scored a lot of points interviewing and blowing away the Creepy Porn Lawyer.

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Solar observation facility mysteriously evacuated in New Mexico

A true bona fide mystery taking place at a solar telescope facility in southern New Mexico, showing the eerie power of the government.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Sunspot, New Mexico is one of the United States’ unique phenomena – a settlement or village named after it’s primary purpose. In this case, the purpose of Sunspot the village is to house solar research scientists who use the Sunspot telescope, more properly named the National Solar Observatory’s Dunn Solar Telescope.

It has one mission – to stare at the sun so scientists can observe it. And, since 1950, that has been the sole business of this little community, perched at an elevation of 9,200 feet above sea level on the escarpment of the Sacramento Mountains.

But today, the village is empty, the solar scope unused and no one is allowed on the premises. This all happened under very mysterious circumstances just a week ago.

Cnet.com tells the story:

Corners of the internet are atwitter about a possible alien coverup after reports that a Blackhawk helicopter and federal agents swooped in and inexplicably evacuated a remote part of New Mexico, including a prominent solar observatory. 

FBI agents showed up at the Sunspot solar observatory in tiny Sunspot, New Mexico, on Friday and shut down the facility, evacuating the local area, including the town post office. 

“There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers, but nobody would tell us anything,” Otero County Sheriff Benny House told the Alamogordo Daily News. “I don’t know why the FBI would get involved so quick and not tell us anything.”

Five days later, the observatory’s website confirms the entire facility is closed to both staff and the public until further notice.

“The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time,” AURA spokesperson Shari Lifson said in an emailed statement. “It’s a temporary evacuation of the facility. We will open it up as soon as possible.”

The FBI field offices in Albuquerque and in El Paso, Texas, didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

The Cnet piece goes on to note how the lack of explanation from the authorities prompted some interested parties to speculate that some sort of alien coverup is involved with this.

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The situation is admittedly most curious. The telescope is quite remarkable. It rises 13 stories (136 feet) above the ground, but it also extends some 230 feet below ground as well, making the total length 330 feet (100 meters). It weighs more than 250 tons, and it is suspended from the top of its tower by a mercury-filled float bearing. This precision instrument observes the sun, so it is used during the daytime, and not at night.

View of the Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Monument and Missile Range, and Holloman AFB from Sunspot, New Mexico.

As to why this evacuation occurred, no one knows. The site is totally civilian. Anyone can visit this place. While it offers a grand view from the escarpment over the Tularosa Basin one mile below, an area the size of the state of Connecticut, and while that view does encompass much of the White Sands Missile Range, and Holloman Air Force base near Alamogordo, neither of these places are especially secret.

This incident is gaining more and more coverage, like this snippet on September 13th’s Tucker Carlson program:

Perhaps even stranger is that according to the talk in the area, the observatory staff have not been seen or heard from since they were evacuated. This detail, printed on Reddit, may be subject to all the fantasy that can crop up in such a place, but some things are known as well, such as the post office being rerouted to the village of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, about 18 miles distant, and the program currently running the Dunn Solar Telescope has been told only to wait until further notice.

Reddit’s entry on this goes on to say more:

Six days ago, federal agents swooped into the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico and closed everything, including the nearby post office, without warning or reason. The local authorities were called in to help with the evacuation process but have been left in the dark from the first. The post office was rerouted to Cloudcroft, about 18 miles away, and, according to gossip, the observatory staff working that day haven’t been heard from since. Everyone from AURA (the program currently running the NSO) to the county police were simply told to wait until further notice. Despite pressure from the locals, police, and news outlets, the agents and their bureau refuse to elucidate. Probably the most mysterious thing about this, though, is that it’s still ongoing and it seems like the FBI is doing their very best to keep this in near total media blackout.

I heard about the closure the other night when my friend, who works down at Apache Point Observatory (also in New Mexico), texted me about it. I was driving home, jamming out in my car, thinking of nothing in particular when I got the notification. I remember the way my mood just…dropped. One second I was happy and fine, the next it felt like I’d just gotten sucker punched in the gut. I remember pulling into a random parking lot, killing my engine, and just letting the panic overtake me. What I was feeling was true fear. The kind of fear that stops you dead and congeals your blood…

The rest of the entry reads like a science fiction novel, and while it is fascinating, the speculation it raises is probably beyond the scope of this piece. But what is known is that this Solar telescope is presently shut down. Going to the website gives a message that the site is shut down until further notice, but again, with no explanation.

Aliens? Probably not. Solar flare? Who knows. Angry Democrats trying to impeach President Trump? Maybe.

A mystery? Definitely.

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