Bill Browder is the champion of the international Magnitsky Campaign, named after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who was murdered I Russian prison in 2009. Yesterday he visited Stockholm to participate in a bipartisan seminar in the Swedish Parliament about the Magnisky Act.
”We are at very early days. Today we just launched the Magnitsky Act campaign in the Swedish parliament. I had a very good reception, and had lunch with multiple members of the parliament and a number of them immediately raised their hand to sign up for this initiative, said Bill Browder in a conversation in the Podcast 72.”
Bill Browder was once the main foreign investor in Russia with a trade mark of exposing corruption. But in 2003, when Vladimir Putin turned on the mightiest oligarch Michail Chodorkovskij, the changes began.
Putin demanded shares of the oligarch’s revenues. Browder, who was seen as a threat, was thrown out of the country. His Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky discovered that Russian officials were stealing 238 million taxed dollars that came from Browder´s company. Believing in justice, Magnitsky went to the authorities. That was the beginning of the nightmare, says Bill Browder in the Podcast 72.
”Sergei was tortured for 358 days and killed November 16th 2009. Since his murder I have put aside all my business activities and focused to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky.”
At the time, there was one thing that neither Magnitsky nor Browder knew, an essential piece of information which have come into light later days.
”Putin got some of the money from that 238 million dollars, not directly to his own bank account but the account of a man called Sergei Roldugin who is a famous Russian cellist.”
The same Roldugin was exposed in the Panama Paper leak. When the U.S. passed the act Putin´s reaction was fierce.
”Sergei Magnitsky was put om trial three years after they killed him. It was the first trial against a dead man in Russian history. It kind of shows how rattled Putin was to take such a drastic step.”
Bill Browder had found was a weak spot. What good is it to have money if you cannot enjoy it?
”Putin believes that he is potentially subject to the Magnitsky Act, and I should point out that Putin is a very rich man. He is worth 200 billion dollars and that money is kept in the name of oligarchs that look after his money in the west. And he believes that he personally could loose fortunes to the Magnitsky Act, that is why he was so crazy that he puts a dead man on trial.”
Russian oligarchs likes to have their money outside Russia, where it is supposed to be safe, and spend it on boarding schools for their children, shopping for wives and mistresses, medical treatments and vacations.
”I realized we had come across a very good policy. The more Putin showed his cards, the more we knew we were on to something really, really solid. And it has been proven true that probably the single most foreign policy priority for Putin is to remove the Magnitsky act.”
In fact, rolling back the Magnitsky Act was the purpose behind the now infamous meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner of the Trump campaign in 2016.
However, going after the money of Putin and his friends has proven to be a dangerous business.
”I have met all different kinds of resistance that you can imagine. I have received death and kidnapping threats. They have used Interpol five times to have me arrested, Interpol rejected it. They have gone to the British government, probably a dozen time, to have me extradited. They have made movies about me, they have sued me for libel. They are doing anything possible to disrupt and to ruin my life and potentially kill me.”
Are you scared for your life?
“I would not say that I am scared for my life. I do not walk around the world feeling scared and I am not a fearful person. But there is a very real possibility that one day they are going to come and kill me and I have to accept that. This is what is happening when you go against the Putin-regime.”
It is like a modern day cancer drug. Instead of the killing the patient, it kills the cancer cells.
The Magnitsky Act targets individuals guilty of human rights violations, not ordinary people. And that is also why the reaction from the Kremlin has been so forceful.
"It never works to sanctioning a whole population for the bad actions of their elite. This is sanctioning the elite directly. It is like a modern day cancer drug. Instead of the killing the patient, it kills the cancer cells.”
However, the effects of the Magnistky Act go beyond Russia. When Canada passed the Act individuals from South Sudan and Venezuela were added to the list.
”We stumbled into the new technology for dealing with bad guys. There is no reason that it should be limited just to Russians, there are bad guys from a lot of different countries. We are living in a globalized world. Fifty years ago the Khmer Rouge were not going on vacation to Saint Tropez, but I can guarantee you that the Uzbek dictator and his family are.”
In Sweden, the public debate on implementing the Magnitsky Act is now starting. What could be more natural for a country that puts heavy emphasis on morale in its Foreign Policy than to implement a piece of legislation that is targeting international human rights violators?
It should be a perfect issue for foreign minister Margot Wallström to push for in the Swedish government, However, Browder’s general experience is that the biggest resistance against the Magnistky Act comes from foreign ministries who do not want to complicate matters on the international scene.
This is an editorial written by Patrik Oksanen, who is a defence and security writer syndicated in MittMedia Newsgroups liberal/Centre party-papers.
Interested in to hear more about security, defense and related issues. Listen to more episodes of Podcast 72 (Podd 72 in Swedish), some of the episodes are in English.