Bill Browder is celebrating two defeats for Russian President Vladimir Putin this month: Kremlin interior ministry official Alexander Prokopchuk’s loss to a South Korean candidate for Interpol president on Nov. 20, and Dana Rohrabacher’s failure to get re-elected in the 48th Congressional District on Nov. 6.
Chicago-born Browder is a financier and economist who gave up his American citizenship in 1998 to avoid paying taxes related to foreign investments. Now a 54-year-old Brit, he is CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management, an investment fund that once was the largest foreign-portfolio investor in Russia.
In 2007, Hermitage’s Moscow office was raided by interior ministry officers with a search warrant that alleged a company administered by Browder’s fund had underpaid its taxes. But because Russian tax authorities had just written the company stating it overpaid its taxes, Browder hired Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky to investigate.
Magnitsky’s probe exposed a massive tax-refund fraud put in motion by Russian officials, but after Hermitage presented its findings to the Kremlin, the tax accountant was arrested for colluding with Browder’s company.
Eight days before a one-year time limit to either try or release Magnitsky, who was suffering from multiple medical issues without receiving proper treatment, he died in his Moscow prison cell. That sparked an international uproar and the Kremlin’s formation of a human-rights council, which concluded Magnitsky was beaten to death.
Browder lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russian officials for the slaying of the legislation’s namesake. After the bill received bipartisan support, President Barack Obama signed it into law in December 2012.
Putin hates the Magnitsky Act so much that he unleashed Kremlin minions to lobby U.S. legislators and Donald Trump’s son and son-in-law into killing the law. One point person in this campaign had been the Russian leader’s favorite (and now ex-) congressman, which is why Browder tweeted this on Nov. 12: “Rohrabacher’s demise is very important for two reasons. One is that he was a Putin-loving monster who seemed to have an obsession with repealing the Magnitsky Act. But also because it sends a clear message that being a Putin stooge is an election loser.”
Browder feared that Prokopchuk would use Interpol to achieve what Putin has failed to do: bring the Hermitage CEO back to Moscow to be tried for fraud, tax evasion and the recently added charge of murdering Magnitsky.
“The idea that Russia would be in charge of the international police organizations is one of the most horrifying things anyone can imagine,” Browder told reporters, “but particularly so for anyone who is being targeted by the Kremlin.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.