Sunday

26th May 2019

Russia asks Interpol to track Magnitsky campaigner

  • Browder on the campaign trial at the Davos forum in Switzerland (Photo: davos.ch)

The diminutive US-born businessman and his entourage of one or two assistants has become a familiar sight in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Bill Browder visits the EU capital several times a year to make the case for EU sanctions on Russian officials linked to the alleged murder of his former employee, whistleblower accountant Sergei Magnitsky.

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He is also a frequent visitor in Berlin, The Hague, Paris, Rome, Stockholm and Warsaw.

But he is a wanted man in Russia, which last month issued a warrant for his arrest on charges that he illegally obtained shares in its national energy champion, Gazprom, 15 years ago.

He is also wanted in other ways.

Following a series of anonymous death threats, he now lives in London under the protection of the Special Branch of the British police.

When he travels, the UK liaises with security services in other European countries to keep him safe.

But if the Kremlin gets its way, his travels could come to an end.

The Russian interior ministry on 7 May filed a request with Interpol, the international police body in Lyon, France, to issue a so-called All Points Bulletin (APB) on Browder.

If it agrees, authorities in all 190 Interpol member states will be obliged to alert Russia on his movements, enabling it to request his detention and extradition.

The police body will consider Russia's demand at a meeting on Thursday (23 May).

According to article 3 of the Interpol charter: "It is strictly forbidden for the organisation to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."

Reacting to the Browder request, Interpol issued a statement to press on Monday saying "This prohibition is taken extremely seriously."

But it has not stopped the police body from honouring dubious requests in the past.

One person currently on an Interpol notice is Petr Silaev, a Russian activist who in 2010 took part in a campaign to stop a highway being built through the Khimki forest near Moscow.

He fled Russia following a police crackdown and obtained asylum in Finland.

But when he visited Spain in August 2012, he was arrested by Spanish counter-terrorist police.

He spent eight days in prison and was unable to go home for six months while a Spanish court considered Russia's extradition demand (which it later rejected).

Meanwhile, Browder's alleged crime on Gazprom is prima facie questionable.

Like many other foreign investors, his firm, Hermitage Capital, bought Gazprom shares on the open market and declared its purchases to the Russian state.

It faced no punitive action at the time.

But Russia is now citing a 1997 decree on Gazprom restrictions - which contained no criminal liability to begin with and which was abolished in 2007 - as the basis for its prosecution.

"The allegations of the Russian interior ministry are a clear smokescreen to conceal the political attack ordered by Russian President Putin on Mr Browder in retaliation for Mr Browder's advocacy for the Magnitsky sanctions," Hermitage Capital said in a statement on Monday.

"This will become a key test of whether Interpol's systems are robust enough to fend off such obvious misuse," it added.

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