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6th Mar 2021

Russia targets UK activist via Interpol

  • Browder (r) at the European Parliament in Brussels (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

EU states should put financial pressure on Interpol to stop countries such as Russia from abusing the system, a prominent human rights campaigner has said.

Bill Browder, a London-based figure who has fought for tighter EU and US sanctions on Russia, spoke out after the Kremlin confirmed it had filed another red notice at the international police agency calling for his arrest.

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  • Magnitsky died in prison after exposing the $230 million scheme (Photo: Hermitage Capital)

The Russian prosecutor general’s office told Russian media on Thursday (24 August) it had sent “objections” to Interpol after the agency declined to put Browder on its “wanted list” based on a Russian request in June.

But Russia's action still caused an incident at Heathrow airport in the UK on 3 August.

Staff stopped Browder from flying to the US because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had deleted his visa waiver.

The DHS promptly reinstated it, but Browder told EUobserver that the glitch was linked to the Interpol alert. “Yes. I was informed by people connected to US law enforcement that it was,” he said.

Browder said it was “not clear what actions Interpol did or did not take on the basis of Russia's request”.

Interpol declined to say what it did.

It told this website on Thursday that it "examined" each “red notice” to ensure that it did not have “a political, military, religious, or racial character.”

But the police agency also circulates other alerts, such as “diffusions”, which undergo less scrutiny.

Magnitsky affair

Browder used to run a hedge fund in Russia. He became a human rights campaigner after he and his accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, exposed a $230 million corruption scheme.

Money from the scheme has since been traced to the inner circle of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Fallout from the affair has also reached the highest levels of US politics.

Browder spoke in July to a Senate committee on Russia’s meddling in the US election after it emerged that a Russian lobbyist on the Magnitsky case had met US president Donald Trump’s son.

The lobbyist, Natalia Veselnitskaya, wanted help to quash the Magnitsky Act, a US law inspired by Browder that enables it to seize corrupt Russian assets abroad.

Magnitsky died in prison in 2009. Russia then convicted him (posthumously) and Browder (in absentia) of having masterminded the $230 million fraud.

The Interpol request was “linked to Russia's retaliation against my broader work of promoting the Magnitsky Act,” Browder told EUobserver.

EU pressure

The request was Russia's fourth on Browder in recent years. Interpol rejected previous ones on grounds they were “political in nature”.

The police agency, which is based in Lyon, France, has no outside oversight.

But Browder said EU states should force it to mend its ways.

“There needs to be serious sanctions for countries like Russia that routinely abuse Interpol for political purposes,” he said.

“The EU makes up a significant share of the Interpol budget and if it stepped in to demand these types of sanctions, they would be implemented overnight”, he said.

Interpol also took flak last week when Spanish police arrested a Turkish dissident ho was accused of terrorism by Turkish authorities.

Dogan Akhanli, a Turkish writer with German citizenship, later told press: “I thought I was safe in Europe. I thought Turkish arrogance cannot reach Europe, but ... this is not quite true”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel urged Turkey not to “misuse” Interpol.

Some German MPs called for Interpol reform.

Interpol hit lists

The Kremlin has routinely used the police agency to go after its enemies in Europe.

Browder aside, its Interpol hit list has included Ilya Katsnelson, a US businessman in Denmark, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian activist in the UK, Petr Silaev, a Russian activist in Finland, and Eerik Kross, a politician in Estonia.

Belarus, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkey, and others use Interpol the same way.

Germany itself, in 2015, arrested Ahmed Mansour, a journalist from the Al-Jazeera news agency, on an Interpol notice filed by Egypt.

'I thought I was safe in Europe'

Arrest of Turkish dissident has again highlighted the way rogue regimes use Interpol to hunt their enemies inside the EU.

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