Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin singled out 12 Americans he’d like to see the US hand over to Russia for interrogation in exchange for allowing special counsel Robert Mueller to question the 12 Russian GRU agents he recently indicted. Of those, much attention focused on former US Ambassador Michael McFaul. (WhoWhatWhy also interviewed McFaul just a few days ago.)
But Putin singled out, even more prominently, international businessman Bill Browder, a major force behind the passage in 2012 of a particularly powerful piece of legislation, the so-called Magnitsky Act. Browder is Jeff Schechtman’s guest in this WhoWhatWhy podcast.
The Magnitsky Act, initiated and lobbied for by Browder, was named after his murdered lawyer, who uncovered Russian government corruption. It created visa and banking sanctions for Russian officials violating human rights. The Magnitsky Act has long been a major point of contention for Putin, and he’s actively worked to get the law overturned.
The legislation — which passed the US Senate 92 to 4 — has since, according to Browder, gone viral. It’s been copied and passed into law by seven countries, including Canada, and eight more countries are on deck to put it into law.
Browder explains to Schechtman that Putin’s hatred of the legislation has nothing to do with ideology. It’s about narrowing the range of countries in which Putin and his oligarchs are allowed to park their ill-gotten fortunes — and therefore puts their money at risk.
What surprised Browder most about Helsinki was not Putin’s talking about him, or even offering an exchange to get Browder back to Russia, since the Russian president has long been chasing Browder. Rather, he was shocked that Trump had labeled Putin’s proposal an “incredible offer.” Putin had suggested that McFaul, Browder, and a group of legislative staffers who had worked on the Magnitsky legislation be sent to Russia for “interrogation.”
Browder reminds us that he is a British citizen and therefore not even subject to Trump’s wishes. Similar requests made to the British government of Theresa May, and David Cameron before her, were turned down immediately.
Browder also sheds some new light on the role of Natasha Veselnitskaya — the convener of the famous Trump Tower meeting — and her role as Putin’s point person within the US to work toward a repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
Browder, who has long known Putin, talks about the Russian leader’s clear understanding of the “Deep State” and how America works, and how the former KGB agent benefits by being a “long-term player.”
As Browder sees it, “If Putin can’t bring Russia to the level of the West, he's determined to bring the rest of the world down to the level of Russia.”
Bill Browder is the author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (Simon & Schuster, paperback version, October 20, 2015).