02
October

Sanctions refused against Russians

The Times

Sweden has refused to grant safety guarantees to a London-based businessman who has been lobbying Stockholm and other European capitals to impose sanctions and an asset freeze against some 60 Russian officials.

William Browder, co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital, has been leading a campaign to punish the Russian officials for their part in the arrest, and death in custody in 2009 of his former associate Sergei Magnitsky.

The Russian lawyer blew the whistle on a $230 million embezzlement fraud. After his death, the Russian authorities bizarrely put Mr Magnitsky on posthumous trial and found him guilty of embezzlement. Mr Browder was also sentenced to jailed in absentia at the same trial.

Moscow promptly activated an Interpol arrest warrant against Mr Browder — hence his nervousness about travelling abroad and exposing himself to a possible extradition request. Britain has rejected Russia’s attempts to have Mr Browder brought to Moscow to serve his nine-year sentence.

“The Swedes say it is a police matter and the Government has no right to interfere,” said Mr Browder, who has been successfully persuading European Union governments to freeze the foreign assets of the Russian officials. “But this is a straightforward political decision to ensure that I don’t get arrested at Russian behest. The Germans and the Netherlands gave guarantees. This suggests that the Swedes are afraid of upsetting Russia.”

Mr Browder was due to address a cross-party group of Swedish MPs including Mats Johansson of the ruling centre-right Moderate Party. “We shouldn’t be giving in to Russian pressure when fundamental human rights issues are at stake,” he said.

When Swedish MPs called for a Europe-wide blacklist of Russia last year, the Russian Embassy in Stockholm warned that such a step could harm relations. A note described it as “an unfriendly step against Russia”. The Swedish Government stresses, however, that it was not snubbing Mr Browder or buckling under pressure, merely respecting the formalities.

It cannot, says Martin Valfridsson, a state secretary in the Ministry of Justice, issue a guarantee of safe passage in Sweden before the Russians have lodged a request for arrest and extradition.

Interpol, however, has decided not to honour a Russian request to arrest Mr Browder, saying it was politically motivated. Mr Browder says Russia may be preparing a new move against him.

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