Exposed: the ugly face of Putin’s Russia

Progress Online

In a powerful documentary on Putin’s Russia made by Norma Percy to be shown on BBC2 on 19 January there is an extraordinary moment when the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky confronts the recently elected President Putin. On film he tells him that Russia is so corrupt up that to 10 per cent of national wealth is disappearing into the hands of the post-Soviet bureaucracy. So much so that all the best and brightest graduates leaving college want to be tax police. That’s where the money is to be made, complains the owner of Yukos, as tax shakedowns were the most common form of getting rich quick.

At the time, in 2002, the sleek, jowly Khodorkovsky was still Russia’s top oligarch. As he confronts Putin the Russian leader’s eyes narrow and he taps his pencil with irritation on the table as he rebukes the oligarch at a business leaders’ council held in the Kremlin which was filmed and remains an electrifying moment in the documentary. Stalin also used a pencil rather than a pen to initial or tick lists to be sent to the Gulag. Khodorkovsky today finds himself in prison where those business leaders who did not pay their dues to the Putinocracy have found themselves if they did not flee to exile in time.

Not all were so lucky. Today the House of Commons will debate the case of Sergei Magnitksy, who died in atrocious circumstances in Moscow two years ago because he dared challenge Putin’s tax police and the whole regime of state officialdom that has been stealing much of Russia’s wealth in the last decade.

Magnitsky was the Moscow lawyer of a British businessman, William Browder, who operated in Russia in the 1990s after leaving Stanford with an MBA.

Browder has an unusual pedigree. His grandfather was leader of the American Communist party in the 1930s and during the war. Trained in Moscow as a Comintern apparatchik, he helped organise some of the big car and steelworker strikes of the New Deal era. When Stalin allied Russia to the west to defeat the Nazis, Browder turned into a ruthless enforcer of labour disciplines in US factories. He married a woman he met in Moscow and like most loyal communists of his generation he fell out with Stalin after 1945 and then was victimised under McCarthyite witch-hunting in the 1950s.

His grandson decided capitalism was a better bet than communism and built up the largest investment fund in Russia with billions of dollars of assets. Not all went well for young Browder, and when he started publicly complaining about the endemic corruption in Russian state companies, Putin expelled him from Russia as a ‘threat to national security’. The Putin regime doesn’t operate in half measures. When they decide to turn on you, they do so in a spectacular fashion. After Browder’s expulsion, Putin’s tax police raided his offices in Moscow, seized all his company stamps and seals and then stole his investment holding companies.

Browder hired a bright young Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky to try to stop this ongoing state-sanctioned crime. Magnitsky investigated all the police actions and discovered that Browder’s companies were not only stolen, but also subsequently used by the tax police to fraudulently refund, from the government’s coffers, $230 million of taxes that Browder’s firm had paid in the previous year.

Magnitsky did what any lawyer does on behalf of his client. He filed criminal complaints and testified about the involvement of the tax police in this enormous crime.

This was a big mistake. He was subsequently arrested by the same tax police officers he testified against and blamed for the fraud himself. The scams the Putinocracy arrange are not just for a few high-ups. Everyone gets a cut. So to shut Magnitksy up he was flung into one of the roughest prisons in Russia and essentially held as a hostage. Because the Russian state could not get at Browder, safe in London, they went for his lawyer to send a signal to other firms operating in Russia that when the tax police or anyone else demanding a cut knocked at the door cooperation was wiser than insisting on rule of law.

Magnitksy was brutally treated in prison. He was tortured for 358 days with sleep deprivation, freezing temperatures, withholding of food, and other torments left over from the Stalin era of torturing people the Kremlin did not like. After six months of this, he got extremely sick and was systematically denied any medical treatment. Eventually Magnitsky’s beleaguered body began to give way, and he went into critical condition. Instead of sending him to the emergency room, his jailers put him in an isolation cell and allowed eight riot guards with rubber batons to beat him until he was dead. He was found lying in a pool of his own urine dead on the cell floor at the age of 37.

Since then, the Russian government has tried to cover up the cause of death. A network of named officials in the tax, police, public prosecution and prison departments of the Russian state has now been identified. Many have property abroad bought at prices impossible on their declared salaries.

In the Commons the government will be asked to sharpen its diplomatic tools by declaring that the functionaries linked to Magnitsky’s death are unwelcome as visitors in Britain as the US State Department has done under pressure from Congress. The FCO will resist this idea and have constantly sought to downplay the Magnitsky affair. But modern Russian apparatchiks like to visit, buy flats, or educate their children in England. By naming, shaming and announcing they will lose those privileges if they break the law and allow a lawyer representing a British firm to die in agony for having defended his client’s interests, diplomatic pressure will be focused, sharp and will send a clear state-to-state signal that Russia cannot live above the law.

That is also what more and more decent Russian citizens want. A further signal could be sent. Just as Mr Putin is not welcome on the streets of Moscow, Britain should say he is not welcome at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics.

In the 20 years since the end of communism Russia spent the first decade being plundered by oligarchs and the last decade being robbed by state functionaries up to the highest level. It is time that Russia became a normal rule of law nation and its tax collectors levy taxes for the good of the people not their own offshore bank accounts.

Denis MacShane is MP for Rotherham and a former minister for Europe займы на карту без отказа hairy woman zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/online-payday-loans-cash-advances.php payday loan

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