Bill Browder, the US-born investor and Putin critic, struck back today against new allegations made against him by Russia, accusing the country of attempting to use its international influence to destabilise Interpol.
Prosecutors in Moscow claimed Browder's fund shareholders used illegal profits made in the country to fund donations to the Democratic Party, and claimed he may have poisoned Sergei Magnitsky, his Russian accountant who died in prison after uncovering a huge fraud.
Browder has accused Russian prison officials of causing the death of Magnitsky, whom the investor often refers to as having been a lawyer.
Formerly one of the Russia’s biggest foreign fund managers before he was expelled in 2005, Browder, a UK citizen, has been described as Russia’s “most wanted man”.
Speaking to City A.M. today, Browder said the new allegations were an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to distract attention from an EU vote tomorrow on tough new laws to punish rogue Russian officials, and an election on Wednesday to select the new head of Interpol, the international body for coordinating law enforcement.
“There’s no way that some mafia deal is going to be made with the United States that will affect my interests,” Browder told City A.M.
EU lawmakers will vote tomorrow on a European equivalent to the Magnitsky Act – named after Magnitsky and strongly backed by Browder – a piece of US legislation passed in 2012 which barred 18 Russians from entering the US and using its banks.
The law was expanded in 2016 to allow US authorities to impose targeted sanctions against those who have committed human rights violations, wherever they live. The act has been strongly criticised by Putin.
“Every time there’s huge progress in Magnitsky sanction legislation, Putin creates one of these spectacles,” said Browder. “It’s the single most upsetting thing that’s happened to him, and the more upset he gets, the crazier he is with these allegations.”
The allegations also come ahead of a closely-watched race to appoint the new president of Interpol, with a vote set for Wednesday.
A Russian official, Alexander Prokopchuk, is tipped to become the body’s new head, following the disappearance and resignation of Meng Hongwei, who is being investigated for corruption in China.
Russia has been accused of using Interpol to obtain arrest warrants against political enemies, including Browder, who was arrested in Spain earlier this year.
“What Russia is doing is potentially destabilising Interpol, by both abusing it and then trying to put its own people at the head of Interpol. The western world is not just going to allow Interpol to be commandeered by Putin,” said Browder, adding “every freedom-loving country wants to make sure Interpol doesn’t become an arm of the mafia.”
Authorities in Europe and the EU have serially rejected Russian requests to arrest Browder, claiming the charges are motivated by politics.
Russian officials said today they hoped President Donald Trump’s administration may shift that stance, claiming investors in Browder’s Hermitage Capital fund donated $2m (£1.56m) to the Democrats out of earnings which avoided US tax, and saying it was “highly likely” the investor had poisoned Magnitsky.
A spokesperson for the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office told reporters: “We really hope that the new leadership of the US Justice Department will adopt an impartial and legal approach.”
Browder told City A.M. he was confident that the US would not shift its position.
“The United States Department of Justice has already looked at this case and dismissed Russia’s fantasy allegations, and have determined the truth of what happened to Magnitsky, which is that he was murdered for uncovering massive government corruption,” Browder said. “They’ve made it very clear and official, and I don’t think anything is going to change in America in that regard.”
He said he thought Russia’s latest allegations would damage Prokopchuk’s chances of taking the top job at Interpol.
“In a certain way, they’ve really reduced their chance of success,” Browder said. “Anybody who wasn’t paying attention to this vote on Wednesday will now be paying attention. All it does is shine a light on Russia’s malfeasance in regards to both these events.”