Norway has reiterated its concern about an investigation into the 2009 prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky but said it has no plans to impose any sanctions.
“Norway has no tradition of introducing unilateral actions against individual countries or persons. This policy remains also in the Magnitsky case,” the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow said in a statement.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, writing about Magnitsky in a letter to a group of the country’s lawmakers earlier this month, said Olso was following the case closely but its policy was to only accept sanctions reached by the UN Security Council.
In response to Magnitsky’s death, the U.S. has passed the Magnitsky Act that blacklists Russian officials implicated of human rights violations. Magnitsky’s supporters have been pushing other countries to adopt similar sanctions.
Norway’s foreign minister said that while Oslo would stop short of imposing sanctions, it would use its membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe to raise the human rights agenda in Russia. (more…)
The case of Ryan Fogle, a 29-year-old third secretary in the political department of the U.S. embassy in Moscow who was arrested last week by Russian authorities, sparked a media furor worthy of the heights of the Cold War. The Russian government accused him of being a CIA officer, suggesting that he had been sent to the North Caucasus to meet with Russian security officials and to follow up on leads about the Tsarnaev brothers, the two ethnic Chechens implicated in the recent Boston bombing. Fogle left Moscow speedily. But in case anyone thought the episode was a one-off, news has also leaked of another: the expulsion on May 5 of Thomas Firestone, a prominent American lawyer in Moscow who used to work at the Department of Justice and is a caustic and well-informed observer of official corruption in Russia. The Russian security service, the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti), had apparently tried, and failed, to recruit him.
Although it would be a scandal if the United States were caught spying on Canada or the United Kingdom, no one should be surprised that the United States spies on Russia — or vice versa. Russia is not a member of the Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which is the closest thing the intelligence community has to a trusting family. Russia is not even a member of NATO — and NATO allies, such as Greece and Turkey, spy on each other all the time.
For all the talk of resets, moreover, Russia and the United States remain adversaries. Russia is no longer the United States’ top priority, but it does rehearse military strikes on NATO targets, its media is full of anti-Western propaganda, and the country’s security services have a mixed record when it comes to dealing with violent Islamist extremists. Sometimes it represses them harshly; sometimes it uses them to serve Russian interests. The Russians captured Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda, in 1996, but let him go for reasons that remain unclear.
So it is only natural that CIA officers at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, working under diplomatic cover, seek out and cultivate potential sources. And in fact, the CIA’s recent track record of recruiting Russians is excellent. It flipped Alexander Poteyev, the number two in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) department dealing with the United States. Poteyev, in turn, betrayed the service’s crown jewels: its ten undercover sleeper agents in North America. That led to the arrest of Anna Chapman, a Russian national who had partied her way through London and New York, probably to build up a cover story for use later, and her colleagues. Poteyev, who was on the verge of being caught, was smuggled out of Russia in a textbook CIA exfiltration operation. Shock waves from that continue to provide other victories. German authorities arrested Andreas and Heidrun Anschlag, Russians who had lived in Germany for more than two decades under false identities and had apparently passed information on German, EU, and NATO security policies to the SVR. (more…)
Most of us take an entirely positive view of Interpol, the cross-border crime-busting organisation, even though we have only the haziest view of what it actually does. This is at least partly thanks to the influence of Biggles, hero of schoolboy fiction, who used to go on perilous missions for Interpol to track down international felons. Agatha Christie was another powerful influence. Her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot might have a discrete word with well-placed Interpol friends when he wanted information on some master criminal.
So far, so good. Unfortunately, Interpol is no longer the virtuous force it was. These days it doesn’t just chase villains. It aids and abets them. Its former president, Jackie Selebi, was recently found guilty of taking bribes from a drugs baron.
More worrying by far, there is now overwhelming evidence that Interpol’s channels are happy to assist secret police from some of the world’s most vicious regimes as they target and then persecute internal dissidents. It may once have been the case that it was the sort of organisation that helped honest citizens sleep more soundly at night. But many of the things Interpol has done over the past few years ought to wake us up at night, screaming.
Let us consider the appalling case of Bill Browder, the former chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management, whose colleague Sergei Magnitsky died four years ago in a Russian prison, almost certainly tortured to death on the orders of the FSB state security service.
Ever since then, Mr Browder, a man of courage and high principle, has demanded posthumous justice for Mr Magnitsky. In return the Russian authorities accuse the financier of corporate theft. Earlier this month, the FSB took its latest retaliatory action. It demanded that Interpol issue an “all points bulletin” to help locate Mr Browder – a move which is presumably intended to lead to his arrest and extradition. Any decent organisation would have dismissed this outrageous demand out of hand. Not Interpol, which is expected to decide whether to comply with the Russian request at a meeting today at its Lyon headquarters. There is every chance it will, if precedent is anything to go by. (more…)
The European Magnitsky Law event has been canceled after German authorities refused to grant safe passage to William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital, who was due to speak at the event in Berlin on May 27.
Germany’s refusal to grant Browder safe passage comes after Russian authorities filed a request with Interpol to monitor the investor’s international movements. Browder is wanted in Russia on charges of tax evasion.
Browder has denied the charges and tied them to his work with late lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 after reporting the embezzlement of $230 million by tax authorities.
Magnitsky later died in a pre-trial detention center after being refused treatment for a medical problem. The Kremlin human rights council also ruled that the lawyer had been beaten before his death.
In April this year, the U.S. imposed sanctions on a number of Russian officials implicated in the Magnitsky case. Browder, who has campaigned for the adoption of a similar law in Europe, was due to speak at the Magnitsky Law event next Monday.
Germany’s refusal to protect Browder at the event has drawn the ire of the Hermitage group, who released a statement saying “the German authorities are … becoming an accessory to the Russian cover-up of Magnitsky’s killers.”
The lack of an official explanation for the abrupt expulsion from Russia of U.S. lawyer and former Justice Department official Thomas Firestone earlier this month has led to a flurry of speculation about what may have prompted it.
Firestone, an expert on corruption in Russian law enforcement agencies who worked as a lawyer for the Moscow office of the Baker & McKenzie law firm, was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport on May 5 when returning from a trip abroad. Officers kept him in the airport for some 15 hours before ultimately sending him to the U.S.
The expulsion follows an exchange of insults between the U.S. and Russia last month, when the U.S. released a blacklist of 18 Russian officials allegedly implicated in human rights violations who were banned from entering the U.S., and Russia responded with a similar blacklist of 18 U.S. officials.
“I don’t know what the reason for Firestone’s expulsion was, but [it's true that] he was very active in advocating for the release of Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and that he made a number of requests to Russian officials asking them for his release,” Hermitage Capital head William Browder said by phone Tuesday.
If it’s true that Firestone was expelled over the U.S. Magnitsky Act, he wouldn’t be the first American citizen to face repercussions from the so-called Anti-Magnitsky list.
Chris Smith, a top U.S. lawmaker, was refused a Russian visa earlier this year and blamed it on his vocal backing of the U.S. Magnitsky Act. (more…)
The diminutive US-born businessman and his entourage of one or two assistants has become a familiar sight in the European Parliament in Brussels, which Bill Browder visits 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.
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 of 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). (more…)
Russia has applied to Interpol to monitor the travel and whereabouts of a British hedge fund boss wanted by Moscow who is at the heart of a diplomatic stand-off over the alleged killing of whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The international policing body will decide this week whether to approve the request from the Russian authorities to issue an “All Points Bulletin” for US-born financier Bill Browder, whose Hermitage Capital Management employed Mr Magnitsky prior to his death in a Russian prison in 2009.
The death of Mr Magnitsky, who died at the age of 37 after being beaten and then denied essential medical treatment, has become a symbol of corruption in Russia and prompted a law in the United States imposing visa bans and freezing the assets of officials involved in the alleged killing.
A Russian court last month issued a warrant for the arrest in absentia of Mr Browder, who has led a campaign for justice for Mr Magnitsky, on tax evasion charges which the businessman said are part of a politically-motivated vendetta against him by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The Independent understands that the application from the Russian Interior Ministry stops short of a request for a so-called Interpol “red notice” requesting the arrest of a wanted individual.
Instead it will request Interpol’s 190 member countries to alert Moscow to his whereabouts, potentially allowing the Russian authorities to make a direct demand for him to be detained if he travels abroad.
An Interpol committee will meet on Thursday to decide whether to accept the Russian request, which can be rejected if it is found to breach Article Three of its constitution which states that it is ‘strictly forbidden for the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character’. (more…)
A British businessman is facing extradition from the UK to Russia after Moscow issued a request for an Interpol “blue notice” to locate and arrest him.
William Browder, a US-born businessman based in London who is campaigning against Russian officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, his former lawyer, said the warrant meant that he risked being sent to Russia, tortured and killed if he were to travel anywhere in the world.
The move came to light on a day in which President Putin’s use of the courts to constrain freedom of speech was highlighted, with the Levada Centre, Russia’s only independent polling organisation, saying that it might have to close because of legal harassment.
Human rights organisations detect similar political motivation behind a crackdown on NGOs in Russia.
Mr Browder’s London-based company, Hermitage Capital Management, was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia from the mid 1990s until it became the victim of a massive tax fraud in 2007. He hired Mr Magnitsky to investigate.
The lawyer concluded that officials from the Russian Interior Ministry had colluded with police and organised criminals in a $230 million (£150 million) scam, but Mr Magnitsky was then arrested and accused of the fraud that he had apparently exposed.
In March he was posthumously put on trial, having died while in pre-trial detention. Mr Browder was named as an absent co-defendant.
Mr Browder said that Russia had now formally requested Interpol to lodge an “All Points Bulletin” to locate him. The organisation’s oversight committee, the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s files, will rule on the application this week. (more…)
Good news from Russia, politically speaking, is a scarce commodity—especially if it involves opponents of Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, a Moscow City Court judge overturned the extension of pretrial detention for Vladimir Akimenkov, one of 17 people who are currently being held behind bars in the so-called “Bolotnaya case.” According to the government’s version, the mass protests against Putin’s inauguration on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, turned into “riots.” An independent expert commission established by human rights groups has concluded that the violence was deliberately provoked by the authorities to create a pretext for the subsequent crackdown.
Akimenkov, now 25, was arrested last June on the charges of “participating in riots” and engaging in “violence against representatives of the authorities”—charges that could land him in prison for eight years. The entire case is built on the (constantly changing) “witness testimony” of one police officer by the name of Yegorov. Akimenkov categorically denies the charges, as do most of the other “Bolotnaya prisoners.”
The activist suffers from inborn eye diseases, including a severe myopia, partial atrophy of the eye nerve, and coloboma of the iris. While in detention, he is being denied the necessary medical treatment. His eyesight is steadily worsening—now down to just 10 percent. If not released soon, Akimenkov could go completely blind. But, until now, this did not seem sufficient reason for the authorities to release him on bail before the start of the trial—nor, indeed, did the personal guaranties offered by State Duma members Ilya Ponomarev and Boris Kashin, popular writer Ludmila Ulitskaya, and human rights leaders Ludmila Alekseeva and Lev Ponomarev.
Thursday’s ruling was the first case of a successful appeal in the “Bolotnaya case.” Akimenkov’s attorneys were as surprised as anyone. Now—unless prosecutors appeal—the activist will be released on June 10th, the day his previous arrest expires. (more…)