28th Oct 2016

Sweden declines safe passage to Magnitsky campaigner

Sweden has declined to guarantee the safety of a campaigner for EU sanctions on Russian officials despite Russian threats.

Bill Browder, a London-based businessman who is calling for EU countries to blacklist Russian officials suspected of fraud and conspiracy to murder, asked the Swedish government to promise him "safe passage" back in June.

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  • Stockholm. 'Sweden should be supporting human rights activists with a just cause, not hindering them,' Johansson noted (Photo: panoramas)

He did it in order to speak at a Swedish parliament hearing in the context of Russian threats to have him arrested, extradited and jailed.

But a senior official in the Swedish justice ministry, Martin Valfridsson, in a letter in June and in a second letter on 23 September said No, leading Browder to cancel his trip.

Valfridsson hinted that Sweden would not help Russia to get its hands on Browder.

He spoke of the "appalling … lack of respect for human rights and rule of law in the Russian Federation."

He also said Sweden "takes due note" of a decision by Interpol, the international police body based in Lyon, France, not to honour Russia's request for a Browder arrest notice because it was made for "political" motives.

But he added that, under Swedish law, he cannot promise to decline a Russian request before it has been made and he cannot instruct the police not to arrest people.

For Browder, the real reason is fear of annoying Russia.

His lawyers noted in an appeal that Russia on 6 May already asked Sweden for co-operation to track him down.

They cited chapter and verse of Swedish law on international legal assistance, which says "the government," not individual law enforcement agencies, is responsible for deciding how to act.

They also noted that Germany and the Netherlands have given Browder safe passage guarantees.

"This looks to me like the victory of realpolitik over morality in Sweden. It would have been very easy for the Swedish government to provide assurances that they wouldn't arrest me and the fact they didn't suggests they are very worried about upsetting Russia," Browder told this website.

"I'm confident a Swedish court would ultimately reject any Russian extradition request, but for me to spend six months in a Swedish prison fighting extradition … is not a good use of my time," he added.

A Swedish MP from the ruling centre-right Moderate Party, Mats Johansson, backed Browder's point of view.

"We should not be giving in to Russian pressure when fundamental human rights issues are at stake," he told press on Monday (30 September).

Browder launched his sanctions campaign three years ago after his Russian auditor, Sergei Magnitsky, exposed a scam by Russian officials and mafia to embezzle state funds.

Magnitsky later died in suspicious circumstances in pre-trial detention, while a Russian court earlier this year sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years' prison on fraud charges.

His campaign has seen the US impose visa bans and asset freezes on several Russian suspects, but EU foreign ministries have declined to follow suit.

Russia has a track record of using Interpol and bilateral judicial contacts to seek people's extradition from EU countries on dubious grounds.

In some cases, arrest notices are honoured by EU countries' police forces despite Interpol's instructions to ignore them.

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