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Bill Browder and the hunt for foreign agents

In his own words, Sergey Magnitsky was neither Bill Browder’s lawyer nor a whistleblower. It is in his witness statements. Nor was the relationship between Browder and Magnitsky quite as close as Browder would like it to seem.

»If you can present your story as a fight of good against evil, as an image that is purely black and white, you don’t need to worry about the devil in the details. Browder has excelled in doing this,« Flemming Rose writes. Photo of Bill Browder taken while he visits Copenhagen to talk about the money-laundering in Danske Bank og Nordea. Fold sammen
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Foto: Anne Bæk
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This is a reply to a comment piece by Bill Browder.

Bill Browder is a PR genius. Whenever anyone challenges his facts or questions his motives, they are branded as Russian agents, the Kremlin’s puppets or Putin’s useful idiots. This is useful in deflecting attention away from Browder and towards Evil itself: Putin, the Kremlin, the FSB and the Russian state.

It is also a well-known trick. If you can present your story as a fight of good against evil, as an image that is purely black and white, you don’t need to worry about the devil in the details. Browder has excelled in doing this.

And that was what I was trying to bring attention to in my comment piece on Browder and the gaps and misinformation in his story.

Consequently, I am somewhat satisfied to read his response, as it clearly illustrates my point.

Browder uses nearly a third of his response to speculate about my motives and who I might have been hired by.

Flemming Rose Fold sammen
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Foto: Flemming Rose SH Anne Bæk.

I have been there before. Once, in an angry outburst, Mikhail Gorbachev’s close advisor Anatoly Chernyaev called me a CIA agent. During the Muhammed crisis, I was branded a fascist, a Nazi and a neo-conservative, and I was given the special honour of being called an agent of both the Mossad, the CIA and the FSB.

FSB or Danske Bank?

Browder follows the same course of action.

»Is Rose a Russian agent?« he asks.

Having studied my CV, he finds it unlikely. Then he suggests I may be under the sway of Danske Bank.

Well. I thank Mr. Browder for demonstrating an archetypal example of his approach to handling criticism.

Browder keeps repeating a string of undocumented claims about Sergey Magnitsky, an accountant and tax advisor who died a painful death in a Russian prison in 2009: that Magnitsky was his »Russian lawyer«, that Magnitsky was a whistleblower and that on 16 November 2009, Magnitsky was brutally murdered in his prison cell by eight police officers.

Let us address these claims one by one:

  • Several international media, such as the Financial Times, have noted that Magnitsky was not a lawyer. Magnitsky studied economics and finance and in his own words was the registered CEO and founder of some of Browder’s companies. Yet Magnitsky had no legal training and consequently was not licensed to practise law. This is relevant to understanding the professional relationship between Browder and Magnitsky, as their business relationship was the reason they were both charged with tax fraud.
  • It is clear that Magnitsky died a painful, unjust and tragic death. He was treated inhumanly and had bruises on his body, but these have not been directly tied to the cause of death. For this reason, unlike Browder, I do not think it possible to conclude that Magnitsky was beaten to death by eight police officers in his cell. A medical review by Western doctors, prepared by Physicians for Human Rights at Browder’s request, states that Magnitsky suffered from gall stones and that he was denied medical treatment in custody. They conclude that this was a significant cause of death but state nothing about him being beaten to death.
  • Was Magnitsky a whistleblower? That is not the impression you get from Magnitsky’s own statements to the Russian police. He does mention a number of names, including the two police officers whom Browder later identified as central figures in the alleged theft of 230 million dollars, but he does not accuse them of being accomplices to the theft. They are mentioned only as investigators and, most importantly, at that stage Russian authorities had already started to investigate the alleged fraud following a complaint made to an anti-corruption council under the Russian president’s office. So Magnitsky did not blow the whistle, as claimed by Browder. Others had already done so.

Listening to Browder, you get the impression that he had a close relationship with Magnitsky. That is not the picture that emerges on closer scrutiny. When Magnitsky was first interrogated in connection with a tax case against Browder and his partners, Magnitsky stated that he had not seen Browder for three years and did not know where he was.

Tax fraud charges

And three years later, when Russian authorities brought criminal charges against Browder and Magnitsky for tax fraud, Browded responded with a video. At that time, Magnitsky had spent several months in prison, and he died shortly after. But Magnitsky gets only a ten-second mention at the very end of Browder’s ten-minute video.

What changed after Magnitsky’s death? I do not know, but it is undeniable that the martyrdom of Magnitsky has been Browder’s best weapon in his fight against extradition to Russia.

I salute the fight against human rights abuses and personally was active in this fight in the former Soviet Union. But I fear that, by relying on untruths, Browder’s campaign could undermine this fight rather than support it.

You can read this comment piece in Danish here

Flemming Rose’s first column on Bill Browder and Sergey Magnitsky was updated on 22 March 2019 to clarify that Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion by a Russian court in 2013.