Bill Browder, an American-born businessman who has become an outspoken and hated enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was banned by the United States on Saturday, with the U.S. State department revoking his visa on the same day that Putin demanded the international police agency Interpol track down Browder and arrest him for what Putin called “illegal acts.”
Browder has been the leading advocate of the “Magnitsky Act,” a program of sanctions against Russia that targets specific Russian officials and business figure who have been linked to human rights violations. The United States, Great Britain, and Estonia all have passed Magnitsky Act sanctions, which freeze the assets of targeted Russians as well as denying them visas and imposing other restrictions.
On Thursday, Canada added itself to that list, adopting its own Magnitsky Act — a move which outraged Putin, who slammed the Canadian passage of the Magnitsky Act as “very unconstructive political games.”
The Magnitsky Act is named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who in 2008 exposed an alleged theft of $250 million in tax money, apparently stolen by top Russian officials and business figures. Magnitsky was working as a lawyer for Browder’s Moscow-based private equity firm, Hermitage Capital Management when he exposed the massive corruption scheme and was soon arrested by Russian authorities on tax fraud charges — charges that Browder says were fabricated as a way to silence Magnitsky.
Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in November of 2009 at age 37. While the official cause of death was given as “untreated pancreatitis,” Browder, Magnitsky’s family and even an investigation by the Russian Presidential Human Right Commission say that the whistleblowing lawyer was tortured and beaten repeatedly in the Russian prison and that the beatings caused his death.
Removing Magnitsky Act sanctions has become a top priority for Putin. “What made Russian officialdom so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was some kind of roadblock to getting stolen money to safety,” a July report by The Atlantic magazine explained.
“Protecting the money meant getting it out of Russia. But what happens if you get it out of Russia and it’s frozen by Western authorities? What’s the point of stealing all that money if you can’t enjoy the Miami condo it bought you?” The Atlantic wrote.
When Donald Trump Jr. — along with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — met secretly with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at New York’s Trump Tower in June of 2016, the lawyer lobbied the Trump campaign officials to lift Magnitsky Act sanctions if Trump became president.
In Senate testimony over the summer, Browder said that he had “no doubt” that Veselnitskaya was acting as Putin’s personal emissary at the Trump Tower meeting, and that “the Russian government and Vladimir Putin were in effect coming to this meeting.” Putin would have known about the meeting and approved it before it took place, Browder testified.
On Saturday, Russia — reportedly at the urging of Putin himself — placed Browder, who had once been Russia’s largest private foreign investor, in the Interpol database of “wanted” individuals in an attempt to have him arrested. Interpol accepted the request — the fourth time that Putin has tried to use Interpol to capture Browder.
On the same day without explanation, the U.S. State Department revoked Browder’s visa. Though born in the United States, Browder is a British citizen.
Browder testified this summer before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is conducting one of the several current investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election campaign. According to some experts, the purpose of that collusion would be a “quid pro quo” in which Trump would lift economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for Russia’s help in winning the election.
Almost immediately after his January 20 inauguration, Trump began pressuring State Department officials to lift sanctions against Russia, but those officials were able to put at least a temporary halt to Trump’s drive to ease the Russia sanctions.
[Featured Image by Steffen Kugler/Getty Images]