Is Vladimir Putin’s Russia a Wild West where Power can strip a billionaire of his fortune, like in the days of Boris Yeltsin? Is Russia interfering with the United States electoral process? According to the US ruling class, these are questions which leave no room for doubt. And yet all it needed was for President Putin to propose that President Trump accept a mutual exchange of letters rogatory to see panic taking hold of Washington.
- William Browder during one of his hearings at the United States Senate.
On 16 November 2009, tax specialist lawyer Sergey Magnitsky died in Matrosskaya Tishina prison (Moscow). Immediately, the US Press claimed that he had been in possession of information concerning a State scandal, and had been tortured by the « régime ».
The Magnitsky Act
The death of Magnitsky shut down the legal procedures that had been launched against him by the Russian Minister of Justice. Billionaire William (“Bill”) Browder declared in Washington that the tax expert possessed proof that Russian Power had stolen 3 billion dollars from him. Despite lobbying by Goldman Sachs, the US Congress believed it had clarified the affair, and in 2012 adopted a law sanctioning the Russian personalities suspected of having murdered the lawyer. Goldman Sachs, which did not believe the information forwarded by the parliamentarians, hired the lobbying firm Duberstein Group in an attempt to block the vote on the law .
On this model, in 2016, the Congress extended the « Magnitsky Act » to the whole world, requesting the President to implement sanctions against all people and all states which violate individual property. Presidents Obama and Trump obeyed, placing about twenty personalities on the list, including the President of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
These two laws were aimed at giving back to the United States the role it had assumed during the Cold War as defender of individual property, even though they had no communist rival.
The two versions of the « Magnitsky affair »
As for the Russian State Duma, it responded to its US counterpart by forbidding the adoption of Russian children by US families, and by denouncing the responsibility of US personalities in the legalisation of torture (the Dima Yakovlev Law, from the name of the Russian child adopted in the USA who died as a result of negligence by the parents). President Putin applied this text in 2013, also forbidding ex-US Vice President Dick Cheney access to Russian territory.
The « Magnitsky affair » could have ended there. It seems to be independent of the « Khodorkovsky affair », exploited by NATO in order to accuse Russia of interference in Western democracies by way of disinformation or « fake news » . However, the Russian Prosecutor General contests the narrative presented by Wiliam Browder to the US Congress.
According to William Browder, his company Hermitage Capital invested in Russia, particularly in Gazprom. He allegedly discovered signs of irregular practices and attempted to warn the Kremlin. However, his resident’s visa was then cancelled. Then his Russian companies were allegedly robbed by Lieutenant-Colonel Artem Kuznetsov, a civil servant from the Financial Brigade of the Russian Ministry of the Interior. Kuznetsov apparently seized the property documents during a search, then used them to register a new owner. Lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who apparently blew the whistle on the embezzlement, was arrested, tortured and finally died in prison. In the end, Lieutenant-Colonel Artem Kuznetsov and « godfather » Dmitry Klyuev were allegedly able to deposit the 3 billion stolen dollars in a Cypriot bank. This is a classic case of theft by the Russian mafia with the help of the Kremlin . This narrative inspired the seventh season of the Showtime TV series, Homeland.
On the contrary, according to Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, William Browder illegally acquired 133 million shares in Gazprom on behalf of the Ziff brothers, via various straw men. Not only did Browder avoid paying 150 million dollars in taxes, but the acquisition of part of this crown jewel of the Russian economy is in itself illegal. Furthermore, his financial advisor, Sergey Magnitsky, who had developed another scam for the same Browder, was arrested and died of a heart attack in prison .
It is obviously impossible to tell the truth from the lies in these two versions. However, it is now recognised that Sergey Magnitsky was not a lawyer working freelance, but was employed by William Browder’s companies. He was not investigating embezzlement, but was tasked by Browder
with the creation of financial structures which would avoid him having to pay taxes in Russia. For example, the two men imagined remunerating mentally handicapped people as front men in order to benefit from their tax exempt status. Browder had much experience with tax evasion – which is why he lived for ten years in Russia with a simple tourist visa, then abandoned his US citizenship and became a British citizen.
These last elements prove William Browder wrong, and are compatible with Prosecutor Chaika’s accusations. In these conditions, it seems at the least imprudent for the US Congress to have adopted the Magnitsky Act, unless of course the operation was aimed not at defending individual property, but at hurting Russia .
A leader of the Russian opposition paid by Browder
Alongside the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Browder abundantly finances the work of a young lawyer, Alexeï Navalny. Thanks to the help of US ambassador Michael McFaul, the young man pursued his studies in the USA at Yale in 2010. He created an Anti-Corruption Foundation in order to promote Browden’s version and accuse Putin’s administration.
Having become a leader of the political opposition, Navalny and his Foundation directed a first documentary accusing the family of Prosecutor Chaika of corruption. But although the video is convincing at first look, it presents no proof of the facts it relates.
Simultaneously, Navalny ordered a second documentary from a Russian film director and member of the opposition about the « Magnitsky affair ». But this journalist turned against his employer during the investigation, which was finally broadcast by Russian public television.
A spook and an ambassador paid by Browder
Thereafter, William Browder engaged an ex-agent of MI6 in Moscow (1990-93), Christopher Steele, and the ex-US ambassador to Moscow (2012-14), Michael McFaul.
It so happens that it was Christopher Steele who, in 2006 – while he was with MI6 – accused President Vladimir Putin of having ordered the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium. In 2016, he also worked – freelance this time – for the US Democratic Party. That was when he wrote the famous dossier accusing candidate Donald Trump of being under the threat of blackmail by the Russian secret services  ; an unwarranted charge which has just resurfaced after the bilateral Summit in Helsinki. We find Steele once again, in 2018, involved in the Novitchok poisoning of Sergueï Skripal – as a « consultant » for MI6, he of course accused the inevitable Vladimir Putin.
The Russian riposte
During the US Presidential campaign of 2016, Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika attempted to influence a member of Congress who was open to Russian thinking, Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, California). He sent her a note concerning his version of the Browder-Magnitsky affair. Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met the son and son-in-law of candidate Donald Trump at Trump Tower, in order to inform them that a part of Browder’s dirty money was being used to finance the candidacy of Hillary Clinton .
Thereafter, William Browder became the main source of the enquiry run by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller about possible Russian interference in « US Democracy ». A long time before he became the Director the FBI, Mueller – who officially has no link to the CIA – had been responsible for the enquiry on the Lockerbie attack, which he attributed to Mouammar Kadhafi. Let’s remember that Libya never recognised that it was implicated in this affair, although it accepted to pay a compensation to the victims. Above all, Scottish Justice established the fact that fragments of the detonator found on site were placed there by the CIA in order to accuse Libya. Mueller used the meeting of Trump’s team with Natalia Veselnitskaya as « proof » of the subordination of Donald Trump to the Russian Intelligence services.
In the USA, Natalia Veselnitskaya represents the interests of several of Browder’s Russian victims. She also acted in 2014 on behalf of one of the companies that Browder accused of being connected to « godfather » Dmitry Klyuev. She also raised the question about the manner in which an agent of Homeland Security, Todd Hyman, had transmitted a trial document without proceeding with the usual verifications.
There will be no moment of truth
During the US-Russia summit in Helsinki, President Vladimir Putin proposed that his US counterpart allow US investigators to question those Russian civil servants suspected of interference in the US Presidential campaign, on the condition that Russian investigators would also be allowed to question suspects in the USA. Donald Trump is reserving his answer.
However, when the office of Prosecutor Yury Chaika transmitted the list of witnesses to be questioned, Washington panicked. Not only did Chaika ask to question British subjects William Browder and Christopher Steele if they should travel in the United States, but also ambassador Michael McFaul, lawyer Jonathan Winer, researcher David J. Kramer, and finally, agent Todd Hyman.
Jonathan Winer was in charge of the Lockerbie dossier at the State Department during the 1990’s. He is a personal friend of Christopher Steele, and transmitted his reports to the neo-conservatives for a decade .
During Bush Jr.’s first term, David J. Kramer played an important role in the management of the propaganda system for the State Department as well as looking after the stay-behind agents in Eastern Europe and in Russia. After having worked in various think tanks, he became the president of Freedom House, and campaigned on the « Magnitsky affair ». He is today a researcher at the McCain Institute.
Although, so far, nothing enables us to tell which of the Browder and Chaika versions is accurate, the truth will soon emerge. It is possible that Russian interference may be no more than fake news, but US interference (by introduction into the crown piece of the Russian economy as well as via Alexeï Navalny) may in fact be a reality.
In the context of’ Washington’s unanimous anti-Russian stand, President Trump declines Vladimir Putin’s proposition.