One Man Against the Kremlin

New York Times

William F. Browder has succeeded in making the Kremlin very angry, which is perhaps the best he could hope for after a remarkable three-year campaign to hold Russian government officials accountable for the wrongful death of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, in a Moscow prison in 2009.

Luckily for Mr. Browder, when Russia’s leaders get really mad, they tend to spray the landscape with ammunition that often ends up hitting themselves in the feet, sometimes in the face.

From his London office, decorated with wall-to-wall framed newspaper articles about his case, Mr. Browder keeps turning each incoming attack into further proof that he is dealing with what he calls an evil, murderous, duplicitous and vengeful regime headed by President Vladimir V. Putin.

“What is the crux of the matter?” asked Mr. Browder, a U.S.-born British citizen, answering a question about the recent arrest warrant issued against him by a Moscow court.

“The crux is that in Russia, there is a kleptocracy run by Putin, and all the guys around him,” he said, warming to a familiar theme. “They’re not in their job for the execution of public service; their job is to steal money.”

On the face of it, the Browder vs. Russia match is uneven: One Man Against the Kremlin is almost a comic book title. In fact, it leveled out last December when the U.S. Congress, after heavy lobbying by Mr. Browder, adopted the so-called Magnitsky list, which imposes sanctions on 18 Russian officials alleged to have been complicit in the lawyer’s mistreatment. At that moment, Mr. Browder’s crusade turned into a major diplomatic onslaught, adding another issue to an already tense U.S.-Russia relationship.

Mr. Browder said that the Russian reaction, notably a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, was aimed at Europe, where similar sanctions against Russian officials — visa bans and a freezing of assets — could hurt members of a governing elite who have chosen to shelter their assets, and in some cases their families, there.

“They’re big believers in making examples of people, and creating symbols,” he said. “The message to Europe is, ‘Don’t mess with us.”’

Mr. Browder’s fight against the Russian authorities began before the death of Mr. Magnitsky. In November 2005, Mr. Browder — then a vociferous defender of Mr. Putin at a time when his company, Hermitage Capital Management, was a leading foreign investor in Russia — was barred from returning to Russia for reasons that remain unclear. In 2008, he began a worldwide media blitz accusing a group of Russian officials of hijacking a $230 million tax refund — the case Mr. Magnitsky was investigating on Mr. Browder’s behalf when he was arrested and put in prison.

In the months since the adoption of the U.S. law, the Russian authorities have escalated the attacks against Mr. Browder (and by extension, Mr. Magnitsky, who, in a macabre twist of Russian justice, is now on trial posthumously).

In January, at the World Economic Summit at Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said Mr. Browder’s income in Russia had “not been entirely honest.” Two months later, new criminal charges were brought against the investor, accusing him of illegally acquiring Gazprom shares from 2001 to 2004. Also in March, a Russian TV station aired a program accusing Mr. Browder (together with Mr. Magnitsky) of committing “the crime of the century,” as well as murder and espionage.

The new charges, which also accuse Mr. Browder of trying to “influence” the Russian gas monopoly, are described as “ridiculous” not just by Mr. Browder, but also several other foreign investors who were active in Russia at the time.

“A whole industry developed for foreign ownership through Russian investment companies,” said Mr. Browder. “We, along with about 1,000 other foreign investors, owned shares in Gazprom that were fully acknowledged by the Russian government, disclosed and approved.”

He scoffs at the charge of trying to “influence” Gazprom; that, he notes, is what shareholders do. Indeed, in the early 2000s, Mr. Browder, together with other, more influential Gazprom shareholders, began a successful campaign to expose theft at the top of the company. “Somehow it’s now become a crime to stop crime at Gazprom,” he said.

Fast-forward a decade, and now Mr. Browder, once a canny player in Russia’s murky markets who renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1999, has evolved into a champion of human rights, with the full backing of the U.S. Congress, a paradox that irks some of his former peers.

Mr. Browder bridled at the question of why he dropped his U.S. passport when he became a British citizen, referring obliquely to the “psychological” consequences of being a grandson of Earl Browder, who headed the U.S. Communist Party more than 60 years ago.

He also rejected the notion that he has somehow privatized American diplomacy, enlisting the U.S. government in a personal quest for justice and revenge. He compares the Magnitsky case to the campaign over Steve Biko, a hero in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement who died in police custody in 1977.

“This is an emblematic case,” he said. “The door has been opened. This has pricked the bubble of impunity in Russia.”

So far, however, the Magnitsky case has had zero impact in Russia itself, where Kremlin officials recently received some of the officials named in the U.S. list and promised to protect them. It is too early, said Mr. Browder. “Effectiveness will be seen over years.”

Nor so far are there any signs that Mr. Browder is going to let up, no matter the cost or the personal risk.

“We are struggling in a war with an evil regime that is trying to crush us,” he said at the end of an hourlong conversation. “Do I spend my life living in fear? Have I altered my campaign in any way because of the homicidal tendencies of the Russian government? The answer is no.” срочный займ займ на карту срочно без отказа https://zp-pdl.com/fast-and-easy-payday-loans-online.php zp-pdl.com займы на карту срочно

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