Tycoon presses for sanctions over torture and death of lawyer

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky: died at the age of 37 from appalling jail conditions

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky: died at the age of 37 from appalling jail conditions


A US businessman will meet Irish officials and testify before an Oireachtas committee today to press Ireland during the EU presidency for sanctions against Russian officials responsible for the torture and death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who blew the whistle on a $230 million fraud in 2008.

Bill Browder, the founder and chief executive of the London-based Hermitage Capital Management, is seeking justice for Mr Magnitsky who uncovered the fraud involving Russian state taxes paid by the firm.

The largest foreign investor in Russia, Mr Browder spent $4.5 billion on shares in Russian public companies until he was denied entry to Russia in 2005 and declared “a threat to national security” by the Russian government for exposing corruption in Russian firms.

After testifying against state officials, Mr Magnitsky was arrested and imprisoned without trial, then tortured in an attempt to force him to retract his testimony. He was held for almost a year in appalling conditions, including cells with 14 inmates and eight beds with sewage on the cell floor.

Death in captivity

After six months in captivity Mr Magnitsky had lost 20 kilos and developed pancreatitis as a result of the prison conditions. He died in a cell at the age of 37 on November 16th, 2008, leaving a wife and two children.

Mr Magnitsky is still being prosecuted by Russian authorities for fraud, the only individual to face a posthumous prosecution in the country. Officials whose names appear on records concerning his prosecution and detention have been exonerated of any wrongdoing.

On December 14th, 2012, US president Obama signed the Magnitsky Law imposing visa bans and asset freezes on officials responsible for the lawyer’s death. Legislation has also been introduced in Canada and Europe to hold the perpetrators responsible.

To press for further sanctions, Mr Browder will meet Anne Barrington, director general of the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Europe division and speak to the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs and trade.

“If we cannot get justice inside of Russia, then we will should seek justice outside of Russia,” said Mr Browder.

“The people who did this, did it for money and we know that they like to keep their money outside Russia and like to travel to the West with their families; so we are trying to take away that privilege.” He doesn’t believe there will be justice in Russia while Vladimir Putin is still in power.

‘Bubble of impunity’

“But these sanctions are a small step in terms of pricking the bubble of impunity that currently exists in Russia. When the Putin regime eventually falls, these people will not be able to flee to the West because the West will shut them out.”

Mr Browder advises Irish businesses to avoid Russia at all costs. “It is almost impossible to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of lawlessness and violence that exist in Russia today,” he said.