Bill Browder Executive William Felix Browder is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, an investment firm that at one time was the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia. (Wikipedia) Born: April 23, 1964 (age 53), Chicago, Illinois, United States Spouse: Elena Browder Books: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice Children: Joshua Browder Siblings: Thomas Browder Nationality: American, British
A tombstone on the grave of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail, at a cemetery in Moscow. A new law blacklists Russians connected to the death of Magnitsky in police custody. (Misha Japaridze/AP)
MOSCOW — The U.S. Senate on Thursday repealed a trade sanction imposed 38 years ago to force the Soviet Union to allow Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate, replacing it with a modern-day punishment for human rights abuse that has enraged Russian officials.
The old law, one of the last vestiges of the Cold War, was called the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, named after a U.S. senator and a representative. The new law, passed 92 to 4, grants Russia and Moldova permanent normal trade relations, but it is coupled with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which honors a dead Russian. The law blacklists Russians connected to the death of Magnitsky in police custody and to other gross human rights violations, prohibiting entrance to the United States and use of its banking system.
"Today, we close a chapter in U.S. history," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), one of the prime movers of the Magnitsky bill, said during the debate on Jackson-Vanik. "It served its purpose. Today, we open a new chapter in U.S. leadership for human rights."
How the United States can best promote democracy and human rights in Russia — and elsewhere — became a matter of agonizing and often bitter debate as pressure grew to repeal Jackson-Vanik. Not only was it widely considered a relic with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and freedom to emigrate from Russia, but, under the regulations of the World Trade Organization, which Russia joined this year, it also penalized American exporters.
The House approved the measure last month. President Obama said he looked forward to signing the law because of the WTO benefits for American workers, although originally the administration had argued that the Magnitsky bill was unnecessary because the president could — and would — create the desired blacklist by executive order.
"My administration will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world," Obama said in a statement.
"We need the Magnitsky act to fill the gaps in President Obama's policy," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), criticizing Obama for what he called unseemly efforts to avoid offending Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia, as expected, was infuriated. Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Moscow's special representative on human rights and democracy predicted a tough response, Interfax reported.
"We regard it as unjust and unfounded," Konstantin Dolgov said. "This is an attempt to interfere in our internal affairs."
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) said the bill should have applied to all countries. The House, however, had already passed the Russia-centric bill, and the Senate decided to go along.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said, though, that the United States intends to pay attention to human rights everywhere.
"We will stand up for those who dare to speak out against corruption," she said. "This bill is for all the Magnitskys around the world."
Cardin, chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has been pushing for a Magnitsky law since 2010, when most of his colleagues stumbled over pronouncing the Russian name. Debating the bill Wednesday, senator after senator recounted Magnitsky's life story, his name rolling familiarly off their tongues.
Magnitsky was working for an American law firm in Moscow, advising Hermitage Capital on tax issues, when he discovered a $230?million tax fraud being carried out by Russian police and tax officials using documents stolen from the investment company, run by the American-born William F. Browder.
When Magnitsky accused officials, they arrested him. Magnitsky died in pretrial custody in November 2009 after nearly a year in jail. Despite evidence that he had been beaten and tortured, no one has been punished, and Magnitsky is being prosecuted posthumously.
Browder first testified to the Helsinki Commission about Magnitsky's imprisonment several months before the Russian's death. On Thursday, he said he hoped the Senate action would encourage passage of a similar law in Canada and Europe.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the United States had a moral obligation to speak out for Magnitsky, as well as others who are still alive and languishing unjustly in Russian prisons.
"I continue to worry about them," McCain said, "and I pray for them."
John McCain is the US Senator for Arizona, currently serving his fifth term.
He is a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and served
in the United States Navy until 1981. He was elected to the US House of
Representatives from Arizona in 1982 and elected to the United States Senate
in 1986. He was the Republican Party's nominee for president in the 2008
election. Senator John McCain was a lead co-sponsor of the Sergei Magnitsky
Rule of Law Accountability Act, which was signed into law by President Obama
in December 2012.
The case of Sergei Magnitsky reflects the systematic deteriorationof the rule of law in Russia and its replacement with arbitrary andnearly unchecked state power, increasingly concentrated in the handsof President Vladimir Putin. The political culture in today's Russia can be described as a culture of impunity - a sense among those who control the leversof power that the country is theirs for the taking, and the only question left todebate is how government officials and other elites will divide up its wealth, power, and spoils.
This culture of impunity begins, first and foremost, with Mr Putin. Overthe past several months, Putin has sent an increasingly strong signal that hewill continue to use the instruments of the state to crush his critics. And, he is getting away with it.
This culture of impunity has been deepened by the increased harassmentof members of opposition and civil society groups; by the continued violentattacks on brave journalists who dare to publish the truth about official corruption and other state crimes, and, of course, by the continued detention of numerous political prisoners, not least Mikhail Khordokovsky and his associate Platon Lebedev, who remain locked away - but not forgotten. We also seethe culture of impunity in Russia's recent elections, which were criticized fortheir flaws and irregularities by respected, impartial international organizations; in Russia's NGO law that requires any civil society group that receivesinternational funding register as a "foreign agent"; in the government's growing interpretation of its law against extremism, which is being broadenedto put pressure on civil society; and in the new law against treason, whichhas been defined so broadly that it allows the state to impose fines againstRussians who are suspected of merely giving advice to foreigners.
Ultimately, this culture of impunity in Russia is why Sergei Magnitsky isdead. And why no one has yet been held accountable for his murder. I suspectthat, under the current government, no one ever will. Instead, the Russiangovernment has put Magnitsky himself, a dead man, on trial, perhaps in aneffort to prove that he got what he deserved or ensure that its message of intimidation resonates unambiguously throughout civil society.
If citizens and civil society groups in Russia do not have a path to justice intheir own country, the international community must assume the responsibility to show them that there can still be accountability and consequences forwhat the Russian people are suffering. This is why the United States passedthe Magnitsky Act. It is also why the European Union should pass its ownversion.
Some try to paint the Magnitsky sanctions as anti-Russia. I could notdisagree more. Indeed, as Russian civil society and opposition leaders haverepeatedly told me, the Magnitsky Act is pro-Russia. Supporting the rule oflaw is pro-Russia. Defending the innocent and punishing the guilty is pro-Russia. And, ultimately, the virtues that Sergei Magnitsky embodied - integrity, fair-dealing, fidelity to truth and justice, and the deepest love of country, which does not turn a blind eye to the failings of one's government, but seeksto remedy them by insisting on the highest standards - are also pro-Russia.
What is so important about the Magnitsky Act is that its provisions applynot only to those Russian officials responsible for the torture and murder ofSergei Magnitsky; but also to other persons in Russia who commit humanrights abuses. This is not just about historical accountability; it is also aboutpreventing future Magnitsky cases and about imposing consequences on allhuman rights violators in Russia.
Europe has traditionally led strongly on human rights issues. EU leadersmust, therefore, not allow Mr Putin to intimidate them through threats inother areas. The only things that may restrain the Kremlin's behavior are penalties. Nearly three decades ago, when the US Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked trade to human rights, critics warned thatthis would harm relations with the Soviet Union. In fact, that law turned out to be an important factor in helping end the Cold War. It is my hope thatthe Magnitsky legislation--both in the United States and in the EuropeanUnion--will help bring about change in Mr Putin's disregard for humanrights and the rule of law. For Russians and all members of the internationalcommunity, this change is long overdue.
BY BILL BROWDER
The 16th of November 2013 will mark the fourth anniversary of the murder of Sergei Magnitsky in Russian police custody. His death has been the most well documented case of abuse in Russia in the last 25 years. It has also become my life's mission to bring justice to this situation, and to shine light on similar incidences of human rights abuse and corruption that happen in Russia every day. It is very unusual for a businessman to become a human rights campaigner, but the horror of this story and the power of Sergei's bravery were so compelling that I really have had no choice.
The story of Sergei Magnitsky began in the summer of 2008, when Sergei discovered a massive $230 million tax refund fraud orchestrated by corrupt Russian government officials. Most Russians would have turned a blind eye, because exposing corruption in Russia is an extraordinarily dangerous activity.
But Sergei was not like most Russians and had a character that required him to behave in an honest way. Sergei was not just a brilliant professional, but also a subtle, witty, competent and kind person. If you came to Sergei Magnitsky for help, he would do whatever he could in the most sensitive and sympathetic way. When the Russian authorities started to persecute me and my colleagues, Sergei stepped in and supported us at every step. Heartbreakingly, it was his advocacy for me and his intolerance of corruption in Russia, which caused him to be murdered by the Russian state.
In late October 2008, Sergei chose to testify against the officials involved in the $230 million tax theft. One month after his testimony, he was arrested by some of the same officials he had implicated. It was a particularly brazen arrest because it came at the same time that President Medvedev had announced his fight against "legal nihilism". In my mind, there could be nothing more legally nihilistic than arresting a whistle-blowing lawyer who had uncovered a massive government corruption scheme.
Sergei was arrested on entirely trumped-up charges and the materials used to justify his arrest were fabricated. My first reaction was that there were so many legal errors that simply pointing them out to the court would immediately free him. Unfortunately, dozens of legal filings did nothing to change his situation. It quickly became obvious that he was being kept as a hostage.
Without any success freeing him from inside of Russia, we appealed to various Western organizations to help free Sergei from outside of Russia. We went to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the International Bar Association, the Law Society of England and Wales, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as a number of human rights organizations. They all highlighted his case and asked for him to be freed. But even with that international pressure and exposure, the Russian government refused to budge and kept him as a hostage.
While he was in prison, Sergei was put under extreme pressure to get him to plead guilty and testify against me. They put him in overcrowded cells with a shortage of beds to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat in the middle of December so he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor where the sewage would bubble up. After six months of this nasty treatment, he lost 20 kilos, developed severe abdominal pains, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones, requiring an urgent operation. As his health went into a downward spiral, the authorities refused him all medical care. In spite of all this, Sergei refused to perjure himself and bear false witness. For him, his integrity was more important than his physical security.
As I look back at what happened, I wish he hadn't been such a principled man. I was safe and outside Russia, while he was in pain and in prison. If he had chosen comfort and freedom over his integrity, nobody would have faulted him, and most certainly not me. But that's not who he was.
In addition to refusing to give in to the pressure of his captors, he carried on trying to expose the true criminals. On 14 October 2009, he gave another testimony from jail against the officers involved. It became clear to his oppressors that he was not going to be broken, and he was going to expose them all in an open trial.
In mid October 2009, the Russian Interior Ministry formally indicted Sergei and announced their intention to take his case to court. At that point, I'd given up any hope that he would be freed, and I started preparing myself for the worst. In my mind, the worst-case scenario was that Sergei would be sentenced to six years in prison, and I was going to have to come to terms with the fact that an innocent man was being locked away for six years solely because he was my lawyer.
As things turned out, a six-year prison sentence would not have been so bad compared to what ended up happening. On the morning of November 17, 2009, I received a call telling me that Sergei Magnitsky was dead. He had been beaten the previous night by eight riot guards with rubber batons, while he was in critical condition with pancreatitis. This news was so far beyond my worst-case scenario, it is indescribable how painful it was for me. It was literally like a knife going into my heart. Sergei Magnitsky died at the age of 37, leaving behind a wife and two children.
The criminals who killed Sergei had nothing against him personally, except that he was my lawyer and they needed a hostage. I am haunted by the fact that Sergei would still be alive if he had not worked for me. That burden sits on my shoulders every minute of every day. The only peace that I can find is making sure that the people who killed him face justice and that his legacy is one that will save the lives of others.
That is why I have dedicated my life to getting justice for Sergei. In an ideal world, justice would be done in Russia and the people who killed him would face prosecution in Russia. But that has not happened. Every single person who played a role in his false arrest, torture and death has been exonerated. Many have been promoted, and some have received honors and medals. To add insult to injury, the Russian government was not satisfied just killing Sergei Magnitsky, it then posthumously prosecuted him in the first ever posthumous trial in the history of Russia.
It is clear that there is no possibility of justice inside Russia. So our only choice is to seek justice outside of Russia. But what kind of justice can one get outside of Russia? The crimes committed against Sergei Magnitsky have no jurisdiction in most foreign courts. However, there is one type of justice that is possible: banning the travel and freezing the assets of those involved in Sergei's death. The people who committed this crime did so for money. Most human rights abuses in Russia are committed in order to steal money, and most of the people who steal the money want to keep it safely in the West. They want to travel to the West. They want to send their children to school in the West. If we can block access to the West for the officials who killed Sergei Magnitsky and those who commit other similar abuses, it may not be full justice, but it is a meaningful consequence and much better than the absolute impunity which exists in Russia today.
The concept of visa bans and asset freezes has already been adopted in the United States. We succeeded across the Atlantic and it is now time to have a Magnitsky Law in Europe. The corrupt officials who commit these crimes have houses in the South of France, bank accounts in Germany, and kids in English public schools. Passing a European Magnitsky Law would affect the corrupt Russian officials in the most profound way because of their interests in Europe.
Some have argued that it is better to do nothing in this case and others like it because it would upset the Russian government. They point to the fact that the Russian authorities have already started retaliating against the US for passing Magnitsky sanctions. The Russian government has banned adoptions of Russian children, frozen certain types of commerce between the US and Russia and put reciprocal sanctions in place.
But failing to challenge Russia on Magnitsky's murder and other similar Russian atrocities for fear of retaliation would be the exact wrong thing to do. To quote Andrei Sakharov: "It would be tantamount to total capitulation of democratic principles in the face of blackmail, deceit and violence." It was true when Sakharov wrote his famous letter to Congress in 1974, when Russia was trying to block sanctions against the persecution of Soviet Jews, and it remains true today.
As for me personally, I have received death threats, legal threats and faced a highly orchestrated campaign of intimidation from the Russian government to silence my calls for justice for Sergei Magnitsky, but I will not be silenced. Sergei challenged the corrupt Russian authorities from a far more precarious position, and he paid the ultimate price. I think we all owe it to him to get justice, and a European Magnitsky Act is the best way we can do that.
On the Surreptitious Trump Jr/Kushner Meeting with Russian Colluders (during the Trump Campaign)
Marc Kasowitz's clients include Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to President Vladimir Putin and has done business with Trump's former campaign manager.
— The Washington Post, NOLA.com, "Trump's lawyer has clients with Kremlin ties", 9 June 2017
The Russian oligarchs (see the related term "New Russians") are wealthy businessmen who influence and participate in government -- a government in which (this) small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish or greedy purposes.
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The most famous oligarchs of the Putin era include Roman Abramovich, Alexander Abramov, Oleg Deripaska, Mikhail Prokhorov, Alisher Usmanov, German Khan, Viktor Vekselberg, Leonid Mikhelson, Vagit Alekperov, and still Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Potanin, Pyotr Aven and Vitaly Malkin.
Regarding the Feb. 7 editorial "Mr. Trump's blind spot":
President Trump may have a blind spot on Russia, but we should all keep an eye on any movement to repeal or modify the Magnitsky Act, ...and how or whether Mr. Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apply Magnitsky provisions to Russian officials.
The Magnitsky Act passed Congress on a bipartisan vote in October 2012 and was signed by President Barack Obama. It seeks to hold Russian officials accountable for deaths like those the editorial board catalogued by prohibiting Russian officials' entrance into the United States and their use of the U.S. banking system. The Putin regime retaliated by disallowing the adoption of Russian children by Americans and banning some U.S. officials from traveling to Russia. Many of those Russians affected by the law are oligarchs and friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who would like to see the Magnitsky Act repealed. Congress should resist any attempts to get rid of or weaken the Magnitsky Act and ensure that the Trump administration applies sanctions that reaffirm the U.S. role as the world's leader in human rights.Thomas Hicks, Reston
The Associated Press is reporting that a Russian lobbyist who met with U.S. President Donald Trump's son last year gave him a portfolio of information she said was damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump Jr. and his father have repeatedly insisted that nothing came out of the meeting at Trump Tower in New York during the presidential campaign in June 2016.
But in an interview with AP on July 14, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet military officer, said he was present at the meeting when Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya told Trump Jr. that people tied to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and illegally supporting Clinton's campaign.
Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats.
Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to Trump Jr. and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he told AP.
"This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money," Akhmetshin recalled Veselnitskaya saying.
Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more.
After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.
"They couldn't wait for the meeting to end," he said.
Akhmetshin told AP he does not know if Veselnitskaya's documents were provided by the Russian government. He said he thinks she left the materials in Trump's office.
It was unclear if she handed the documents to anyone in the room or simply left them behind, he said.
The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representative's Intelligence Committee said he wants Akhmetshin to testify before the committee, which is one of several panels in Congress that are investigating alleged Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.
Based on information disclosed thus far about the Trump Tower meeting, "it is clear the Kremlin got the message that Donald Trump welcomed the help of the Russian government in providing dirt on Hillary Clinton," said Representative Adam Schiff.
Schiff called "deeply disturbing" the emergence this week of Akhmetshin, who told AP he was "loosely part of Russian counterintelligence" when he was in the Soviet Army, though Trump Jr. never mentioned or acknowledged he was at the meeting.
Moreover, Trump Jr.'s shifting explanations about what occurred at the meeting — seemingly changing each time media reports disclose new information about it — also shows a "deeply worrying trend," Schiff said.
Akhmetshin, who spoke to AP while on vacation in France, said the meeting was "not substantive" and he "actually expected more serious" discussion.
"I never thought this would be such a big deal, to be honest," he said.
The Russian government has denied any involvement or knowledge of the meeting. Asked Friday about Akhmetshin, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: "We don't know anything about this person."
Even if Donald Trump Jr. helped set up a meeting last year with a Russian lawyer in hopes of learning dirt on Hillary Clinton, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and another official Trump campaign operative could face greater legal problems, a former FBI official says.
"For today, [...] I would say that Donald Jr. was not a member of government and [therefore did] not have a legal obligation," Ron Hosko, a former assistant FBI director [...] told The Daily Signal.
"If it is proven that Donald Trump Jr. was gleefully willing to go to a meeting with a Russian agent, the question is still: What is his legal obligation?"
President Donald Trump's eldest son last week released an email chain from June 2016 concerning his interest in attending a meeting that turned out to be with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others [of great importance].
[...] the meeting proves a willingness by the president's son to "collude" with someone he thought was associated with the Russian government.
[...] two others who attended the same meeting last summer did [act as officials in the Trump Campaign]: Paul Manafort, then campaign manager, and Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who worked in a variety of campaign roles.
The legal situation could be entirely different for Manafort and Kushner, said Hosko, now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal advice and covers some legal fees in duty-related cases.
"Now that is different," Hosko said of Manafort and Kushner. "They are more directly affiliated with the campaign, and one is serving in government."
If the meeting was illegal, Hosko said, "after-the-fact conspiracy" to cover it up could be a crime, even if the three didn't realize the meeting was illegal at the time.
"If Donald Trump Jr. was not a member of the campaign, did he aid and abet in the conspiracy?" Hosko said. "He could [manage to] wiggle out from... being a part of the campaign or government, but he could still be part of a conspiracy."
"The emails released by Donald Trump Jr. reveal, in no uncertain terms, his choice to place his blind support for his father's candidacy before any allegiance to the nation's security," Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said in a prepared statement, adding:
Democracy is not a real estate deal or a New York solid waste pickup contract, but that is how these three Trump campaign officials treated it in agreeing to meet to accept opposition research they believed came from the Russian government. These revelations require prompt and thorough investigation by the DOJ and FEC for the good of the nation.
WASHINGTON -- Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, will have his diplomatic experience and business acumen put to the test should he represent U.S. interests in Moscow.
His posting, which still must be approved by the Senate, would face major challenges as the Trump administration struggles with congressional and FBI investigations into the Kremlin's alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election that brought Trump to power.
If confirmed, Huntsman will head to Moscow amid troubled relations between the two superpowers.
Trump has sought to improve relations with Russia battered by the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg.
He met twice with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month. In their first encounter, they were seen shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries in front of the cameras as they looked to project an atmosphere of cordiality.
The second time, however, occurred during a private dinner for leaders, without any accompanying U.S. advisers, something that has deepened suspicion about Trump's intentions.
Huntsman, who is married and has seven children — including two who were adopted — comes from a wealthy Utah family whose fortune was built on chemical manufacturing.
The company has substantial business holdings in Russia, mainly factories that manufacture polyurethane chemicals used in everything from foam mattresses, shoe cushioning, composites used in flooring, and other common household and industrial products.
Some critics have doubted that Huntsman would be able to negotiate with Moscow impartially, considering his family company's interests in Russia.
Huntsman also sits on the board of directors of the U.S. automaker Ford, which has multiple factories in Russia, and heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, which has a large plant in the Leningrad region outside St. Petersburg.
In the past, Huntsman has reportedly divested himself of any relevant holdings and met ethics guidelines for federal officials.
Huntsman is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, known informally as the Mormons. The church is one of several religious denominations that have been subjected to increasing pressure from Russian authorities.
Some insight into Huntsman's thinking about Russia comes from the website he set up in 2012...
"It's a Potemkin policy," the statement said. "Working with Russia to develop a more cooperative relationship is needed, but we should not make that relationship one that mirrors a Potemkin village in which we pretend the Kremlin is more of a partner than it is, more of a democracy than it is, more respectful of human rights than it is, and less threatening to its neighbors than it is."
The statement is no longer on the website, but can be accessed through Internet archives.
"Potemkin village" has come to mean, especially in a political context, any hollow or false construct, physical or figurative, meant to hide an undesirable or potentially damaging situation... any construct (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is.