June 2015

Canada needs a ‘Magnitsky’ law to take on human-rights violators

The Globe and Mail

In March, the House of Commons unanimously adopted my motion calling for sanctions against individual human-rights violators, including those complicit in the 2009 detention, torture and murder of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky. With just weeks until Parliament rises for the summer, however, the government is running out of time to act upon that expression of laudable intent.

Mr. Magnitsky was a Moscow lawyer who uncovered widespread corruption on the part of Russian officials. After testifying against them, he was jailed, tortured and killed in prison in 2009, before being posthumously convicted – in a Kafkaesque coverup – of the very fraud he had exposed.

Since his death, his former employer, Bill Browder, has been advocating for sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes against those responsible, who would otherwise not be held to account in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Indeed, many have been rewarded by President Putin for their criminality.

Yet because corrupt Russian officials tend to store and spend the proceeds of their crimes beyond the country’s borders – depositing their money in foreign banks, vacationing at foreign resorts, sending their children to foreign schools – the international community has the power to impose tangible consequences by curtailing their ability to travel and trade around the world.

This approach has notably won the endorsement of the European Parliament and legislatures in Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States and now Canada. As yet, however, only the United States has taken action: Congress imposed sanctions against Mr. Magnitsky’s tormentors in 2012, and is currently studying a new bill that would expand those sanctions to cover human-rights violators generally.

The motion adopted by Canadian MPs – and more recently by the Senate, as well – both specifically endorses sanctions in the Magnitsky case, and urges the government to “explore sanctions as appropriate against any foreign nationals responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights in a foreign country, when authorities in that country are unable or unwilling to conduct a thorough, independent and objective investigation of the violations.”

Accordingly, Tuesday, I introduced a private member’s bill that would explicitly authorize the Canadian government to impose visa bans and asset freezes on human-rights violators. Although my bill is unlikely to be adopted before the House rises, I offer it as a template for how the motion passed by the House and the Senate could be enacted in law. There is still time for the government to either take over my bill or to introduce similar legislation of its own, out of respect for the unanimous will of Canadian MPs, and out of solidarity with the victims of human-rights violations in Russia and around the world.

These victims – and the courageous activists who stand up to rights-violating regimes at great personal risk – were on my mind when I rose Tuesday in the House to present my legislation. In particular, I could almost feel the presence of my late friend Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the democratic Russian opposition who was murdered near the Kremlin earlier this year.

In 2012, I joined him in Ottawa to condemn the impunity, corruption and human-rights violations of the Putin regime, of which the Magnitsky tragedy is a case study, and to issue an urgent appeal for global Magnitsky legislation.

Mr. Nemtsov supported the sanctions that Canada has rightly imposed in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, although there remain key Russian officials who have been spared Canadian sanctions. It is time, however, for us to treat Russian domestic human-rights violations as seriously as we do violations of political independence and territorial integrity. Had we acted in 2012 against Russian violations, for example, we might have helped deter the external aggression that followed.

Ultimately, countries that value human rights and the rule of law must use the measures at our disposal to hold violators to account and discourage future violations. Otherwise, we are exposed as having far less concern for these noble principles than our usual rhetoric – including a motion unanimously adopted by the House of Commons – would suggest.

Irwin Cotler is the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, former justice minister and attorney-general of Canada, and professor of law emeritus at McGill University. He is chairman of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-Parliamentary Group.

June 2015


Irwin Cotler

Government declared support for human rights sanctions in March, but has yet to take action

MP Irwin Cotler today introduced the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (C-689), which would allow for the imposition of travel bans and asset freezes against human rights violators. In March, the House of Commons unanimously endorsed a motion by Cotler calling for such sanctions, and a similar motion introduced by Sen. Raynell Andreychuk passed the Senate in May, but the government has yet to heed Parliament’s call.

“I was very encouraged when members of all parties came together earlier this spring to support these critical measures,” said Cotler, the Liberal Critic for Rights and Freedoms and International Justice. “But it is deeply disappointing that the government still hasn’t moved forward with legislation.”

Magnitsky laws are named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who blew the whistle on large-scale tax fraud committed by Russian officials before being detained, tortured, and killed in prison in 2009. He was posthumously convicted, in a Kafkaesque cover-up, of the very corruption he had exposed.

Continued Cotler: “In Ottawa in 2012, I stood with Boris Nemtsov, the leader of Russia’s democratic opposition, to call for Magnitsky legislation; Boris was murdered in February. In 2013, I stood in Ottawa with Sergei Magnitsky’s last employer, Bill Browder, and with another Russian opposition leader, Vladimir Kara Murza, to make the same appeal; Bill has been repeatedly threatened, and Vladimir is recovering from an apparent poisoning. What else has to happen before Canada and other members of the international community take action commensurate with the seriousness of the situation?”

Resolutions calling for Magnitsky sanctions have been passed by the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and legislatures in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, the United States, and Canada. When the Canadian motion passed the House, MPs and Senators from all parties – including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Anderson – held a joint press conference to mark the occasion. Thus far, however, only the U.S. has moved from words to deeds.

“There is still time for the government to either take over my bill or pass similar legislation of its own,” urged Cotler, “both out of respect for the will of Parliament, and out of solidarity with the victims of human rights violations – and those who struggle valiantly on their behalf – in Russia and around the world.”

January 2015

Russian undressing

Fortune Magazine

Investor Bill Browder pulls back the curtain on Putin’s culture of corruption.

The jacket note for Bill Browder’s Red Notice calls it “a real-life thriller about an American-born financier in the Wild East of Russia, the murder of his principled young attorney, and his dangerous mission to expose the people responsible in the Kremlin.”

The description is accurate as far as it goes. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a $230 million fraud perpetrated by Russian government officials against one of Browder’s companies in 2008. He was jailed after disclosing the fraud and subsequently killed while in prison. Browder, who as founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management had made and lost billions of dollars in Russia, has devoted himself since Magnitsky’s death to exposing corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. For his efforts, Browder now finds himself subject to extradition to Russia, where the government has convicted him in absentia of tax evasion and sentenced him to nine years in prison.

But that’s only part of the story. The first half of Red Notice traces Browder’s improbable journey from prep-school washout through college, business school, and a series of consulting and Wall Street jobs before becoming Russia’s largest foreign investor.

The son of left-leaning academics and grandson of Earl Browder—the labor organizer and head of the American Communist Party—Bill Browder rebelled by becoming a capitalist. He recounts his early training through a series of pitch-perfect descriptions of J.P. Morgan recruiters, Boston Consulting Group managers, Salomon traders, and dealmakers such as Robert Maxwell, Ron Burkle, and Edmond Safra.

Whether consulting for a Polish bus company, advising a Murmansk fishing fleet, or finding undervalued, newly privatized companies in Russia, Browder encounters real-life opportunities and absurdities that read better than fiction.

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January 2015

Putin’s torturers: Blowing the whistle on government cronies who stole Russia’s riches

Mail on Sunday

The riches of the former Soviet Union seemed an incredible opportunity for financiers such as Bill Browder, and so it proved when he moved to the ‘Wild East’ and found he needed bodyguards and armoured cars.

But it was when he crossed the henchmen of Russian president Vladimir Putin that the trouble really started, and Browder was thrown into a terrifying world of state-sanctioned criminality. He survived, but his loyal colleague, Sergei Magnitsky, was to suffer an horrific fate at the hands of the Kremlin’s goons, as Browder recalls in this gripping first extract of his extraordinary new book…

The terrifying message arrived on my voicemail shortly after midnight on November 14, 2009. It had been a trying day. My lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was being held in a hellish Russian prison on trumped-up tax-evasion charges, and he had endured another tortuous day in court.

Sergei was seriously ill with pancreatitis and gallstones, but the police were unsympathetic and had chained him to a radiator in a corridor at the court building. When he finally entered the courtroom itself, the judge treated him with equal contempt, dismissing every one of his complaints about the mistreatment he’d endured for months.

I was a world away in London, but I was desperately worried. Another Russian lawyer of mine, who was safe with me in the UK, had recently received a series of menacing texts. ‘What’s worse, prison or death?’ one said. Another was a quote from The Godfather: ‘History has taught us that you can kill anyone.’

I’d shared these with officers from Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism unit, who traced the texts to an unregistered number in Russia. This was very disturbing. The only people with access to unregistered Russian numbers were the secret police, the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation), who’d been after me for years. The FSB doesn’t just issue arrest warrants and extradition requests – it dispatches assassins.

But the message I received late that November night was worse than any that had come before. When I listened to that voicemail, I heard a man in the midst of a savage beating. He was screaming and pleading. The recording lasted two minutes and cut off mid-wail. I called everyone I knew. They were all OK. The only person I couldn’t call was Sergei…
Before all these problems in Russia, I was the founder and chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management, the largest investment advisory firm in the Russian stock market. I had left a safe job in the City of London and relocated to Moscow in 1996, when Russia was nicknamed the Wild East.

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January 2015

Bill Browder: the Kremlin threatened to kill me

The Guardian

I’m due to meet Bill Browder at Mari Vanna, a favourite hangout for rich Russians in Knightsbridge. But when we get there the restaurant, with its rustic dacha-style Russian decor, leaves us both feeling slightly spooked. So we wander across the road to an anonymous sushi bar. Browder’s reluctance to avoid bumping into anyone with Kremlin connections is understandable. As he explains, matter-of-factly: “They [the Kremlin] threatened to kill me. It’s pretty straightforward.”

American-born Browder is one of Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics. For over a decade he lived in Moscow and ran the most successful investment fund in Russia. Initially, he was a fan of Putin’s. But in 2005 he was deported from the country. A corrupt group of officials expropriated his fund, Hermitage Capital, and used it to make a fraudulent tax claim. They stole $230m (£153m).

Stuck in London, Browder hired a team to fight his case. The same Russian officials arrested his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, after Magnitsky uncovered the money trail and made a complaint. They put Magnitsky in jail and refused him medical treatment. (Magnitsky suffered from pancreatitis and gall stones.) After he had spent almost a year behind bars, guards beat him to death. He was 37 and married with two small boys.

The incident had a transforming effect on Browder. “If Magnitsky had not been my lawyer he would still be alive,” he says. He describes Magnitsky’s death as “absolutely heartbreaking”. “If he hadn’t taken on my case he’d still be enjoying his life, being a father, looking after his wife. A young man whom I was responsible for died in the most horrific way because he worked for me.”

Browder’s memoir, published next week, recounts how Magnitsky’s death changed him from entrepreneur to global human rights crusader. Its title is Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s No.1 Enemy; and it reads like a non-fiction version of a Mario Puzo thriller. There’s a ruthless crime syndicate, a mafia boss – for Michael Corleone read Putin – and a growing tally of bodies.

Ever since Magnitsky’s murder in 2009 Browder has waged an extraordinary campaign to bring the officials to justice. Not in a court of law – there’s no prospect of a trial inside Russia – but in the wider court of international public opinion.

After footslogging round Washington, Browder succeeded in persuading US Congress to pass a groundbreaking Sergei Magnitsky law. The 2012 legislation imposed visa bans on the bureaucrats implicated in Magnistky’s murder. It denied them access to US banks. Putin was furious. In 2013 a Russian judge sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years in jail, and, bizarrely, “convicted” the already-dead Magnitsky. The Kremlin sent a Red Notice warrant to Interpol demanding Browder’s extradition. Interpol refused, but Moscow is currently putting together a third extradition bid.

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January 2015

Request for probe into alleged mistreatment of Magnitsky dismissed


Russia’s Investigative Committee has refused to launch a probe into alleged mistreatment of Hermitage Capital auditor Sergei Magnitsky who died in 2009 in a Moscow pretrial center while awaiting trial on embezzlement charges, according to a statement released by Hermitage Capital on Friday.

Sergei Magnitsky’s mother claims that her son was handcuffed and beaten with rubber batons before he died. She insists that independent expert examinations confirmed that Magnitsky was tortured while in custody.

The fund’s statement says that the Investigative Committee nevertheless decided to refuse the probe again, based on “existing evidence” and decisions made by head investigator and prosecutor.

“The Investigative Committee’s resolution does not state the reasons why the individuals involved in using batons and handcuffs against Magnitsky before his death were not held liable”, the fund’s statement reads.

Magnitsky worked for Firestone Duncan and represented Hermitage Capital which was accused of tax evasion by Russian authorities. Magnitsky was arrested on fraud charges in November 2008 and found dead in a Moscow detention center in November 2009.

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January 2015

Revealed: Ed Miliband’s dinner with George and Amal Clooney

Daily Telegraph

Ed Miliband shared an intimate dinner with George Clooney and his wife Amal, a human rights lawyer, to discuss fresh sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s regime, The Telegraph can disclose.

Mr Miliband is now considering plans to block a ring of Russian judges and tax officials from entering Britain after discussing the proposals at a dinner with the Clooneys at the London mansion of a leading barrister.
The Labour leader was briefed on proposals to implement a “Magnitsky law” over a private meal with the Hollywood actor and his wife, Amal, the human rights lawyer.

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian accountant who died after months of brutal beatings in prison after blowing the whistle on a vast fraud perpetrated by corrupt state officials against a Guernsey-based investment fund.

Under measures adopted by the United States, 34 police chiefs, judges and tax officials involved in Mr Magnitsky’s prosecution and death are banned from entering the country.

Campaigners now want to see similar measures imposed in Britain, which could be brought into law as an amendment to Theresa May’s Serious Crime Bill. The proposals are backed by a group of Labour and Tory backbench MPs.

Any amendment would have a far greater chance of success with the Labour leader’s support.
Mr Miliband was briefed on the campaign over dinner at the London home of Geoffrey Robertson QC, the human rights barrister who is campaigning for a Magnitsky Law in Britain.

Mrs Clooney is a barrister at Mr Robertson’s chambers, Doughty Street, and has represented clients at the International Criminal Court.
Bill Browder, whose firm Hermitage Capital Management was the victim of the £150 million fraud after being raided by Russian police, explained the details of the case to the Labour leader.

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January 2015

Russia Leverages Western Courts To Chase Wealthy Fugitives

Radio Free Europe

On a balmy morning in August, Janna Bullock steered a light-blue convertible into the driveway of her oceanfront mansion in the swanky hamlet of Southampton on New York’s Atlantic Coast. Waiting for her was a man bearing a stack of documents.

Bullock, a prominent Manhattan-based real estate tycoon and socialite, accelerated toward the house, hopped out of the car and hustled for the door. The man gave chase and touched her with the documents, saying she’d been served with legal papers, according to a U.S. federal court affidavit.

The documents, part of a civil action lodged against Bullock by state-owned Russian banking giant Gazprombank, fell to the steps in front of the sprawling home and remained there as Bullock sequestered herself inside.

From the gilded shores of the Hamptons and the French Riviera to the London stomping grounds of the super-rich, Russia is pursuing ex-officials and entrepreneurs like Bullock who amassed wealth in Russia and then fled the country after falling afoul of powerful officials.

And despite Moscow’s chilled relations with the West over the Ukraine crisis, these efforts in recent months have yielded several favorable rulings for Russia in U.S. and European courts.

The targets of these legal campaigns claim they are victims of a corrupt Russian state, though some critics say they are merely assuming the mantle of political refugees to protect illicit gains purloined in murky business dealings.

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November 2014

Cameron Gets Tough With a Pick-Up Artist, But Not Putin’s Put-to-Death Artists

Huffington Post

In a show of strength and leadership British Ministers have taken tough action against someone who is clearly a major threat to British national interests. The government has imposed a ban on entering into Britain of an American called Julien Blanc. But as he gets tough with a fellow citizen of President Obama, David Cameron remains resolutely aligned with President Putin’s view that his fellow citizens should not face similar sanctions to that imposed on Julien Blanc.

Blanc is an absurd sexist self-publicist who describes himself as a ‘pick-up artist.’ Britain is probably better off without his presence but in the same week, MPs of all parties gathered to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killing of a British employed tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. He died in agony on a Moscow prison floor five years after 12 months of being brutally treated by state officials working for President Putin.

The MPs are still waiting for David Cameron to take any action against those named as linked to his death.

Magnitsky was employed by a British firm, Hermitage Capital, to investigate the disappearance of $230 million which Hermitage paid in tax to the Russian equivalent of HMRC. He found the money had been diverted into the accounts of Putin’s tax police who are at the heart of corrupt business-political nexus that enriches politicians and favoured state functionaries.

The young father of two persisted in his demands that the money be accounted for. He was arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured to try and persuade him to drop the case. He refused and was then he was so badly treated he died.

Magnitsky’s employer, Bill Browder, an American born British citizen was so outraged he used his firm’s considerable resources to track down those responsible for his employee’s death and find out where they had bank accounts or assets overseas.

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