The Magnitsky Act – Why Vladimir Putin Wants To Get Bill Browder In His Clutches

by Richard Cameron


Editor’s Note:  Legal theory recognizes that there are three essential components to establishing that a person or organization has committed a crime and that must be established when prosecuting the defendants in court – means, motive and opportunity.

Most articles have delved into the opportunity and means involved in the coordination and cooperation between members of Trump’s campaign, family members and likely, Trump himself, with a foreign power, Russia, to subvert our election process. Less examination and focus has centered on the motive behind it. 

Although some nonsensical narratives have been circulated to suggest that Putin actually wanted Hillary Clinton to be elected, including those popularized by Donald Trump – there is no evidence to support it.

In this article, we present a deep vein of ore that demonstrates why Vladimir Putin intended Trump to attain the presidency – which he has publicly admitted. It centers around one person that Putin’s regime and close political associates had murdered in a Moscow prison – Sergei Magnitsky.


We learned during the press conference

held at the meeting in Helsinki between President Donald Trump and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, that Putin wants the United States to pressure the United Kingdom to deliver Bill Browder and / or his business associates to Russian authorities.

Equally, if not more significant – this story has a direct connection to the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, where in attendance were Trump’s son, Donald Jr., son-in-law, Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort – now on trial for financial fraud. Representing Vladimir Putin in the meeting were Natalia Vesilnitskaya – a woman now identified as a Kremlin intelligence operative and Rinat Akmetshin – a lobbyist acting on behalf of the Putin administration.

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant. Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.” – Natalia V. Vesilnitskaya

As to Akmetshin, a letter from Senator Charles Grassley  to John Kelly, then secretary of DHS, described Akhmetshin as “a Russian immigrant to the United States who has been accused of acting as an unregistered agent for Russian interests and apparently has ties to Russian intelligence.”

The cover story of the meeting originally concocted by Donald Trump – that the topic discussed was the possibility of lifting the Russian adoption ban, has been disproven and even Trump himself is no longer making that false assertion. Trump and his surrogates are now acknowledging that the agenda of the meeting was to receive adverse information on Trump’s opponent in the general election – Hillary Clinton, but that conspiring with a foreign government to subvert an election, is perfectly legal. 

But the quid pro quo in this arrangement, was that Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner would promote Putin’s intentions to have Trump, once elected president, remove sanctions including the Magnitsky Act.  

Ms. Veselnitskaya’s role in the Trump Tower meetings, stems from her having represented a Russian businessman, Denis P. Katsyv – who was the defendant in a 2013 Justice Department prosecution involving money laundering of funds acquired from the very tax fraud scheme that resulted in the death of Sergei Magnitsky – which we will outline in greater depth in this report.  Katsyv, the head of Prevezon Holdings Ltd., is a member of Putin’s inner circle of financial plunderers that keep him in power.

Who is Bill Browder? 

William Felix Browder is a citizen of Britain, born in the United States – and is the co-founder and CEO of investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management.  Browder was a conduit for investments in Russia during the post-Soviet era – up until 2005. He is a target of the fetid swamp of right wing bloggers, Qanon conspiracy cultists and Trump media surrogates in the United States, for reasons that appear to have to do with his anti-Putin narrative. Followers of the burgeoning Qanon movement post tweets of which this example is typical:

image of twitter post by member of conspiracy group Qanon, repeating claims that Putin adversary Bill Browder funneled $400 million from Russia to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign

The bloggers, conspiracy theorists and Fox News hosts – as has been the case with so many other topics, have propagated a narrative that portrays Browder as a criminal –  not a truth teller about Vladimir Putin.

The Russian leader is held in high esteem in right wing and social conservative circles, due to his persona and his governance style as an iron fisted authoritarian who panders to tradition minded Russians – a core element of his support base. There, as here – it matters little to his supporters whether Putin’s commitment to their values is in anyway authentic, or merely for political expediency. 

The fact that William Browder is the grandson of Earl Browder, one time leader of the CPUSA (Communist Party of the United States of America), is the cherry on top of the sundae, in terms of making Browder low hanging fruit for character assassination – even though Mr. Browder’s own father, Felix Browder had no similar involvement with leftist politics, nor did his uncle – who was also an academic, specializing in Mathematical studies.

But the irony should be obvious. Browder is considered a personal enemy of Putin, a former Russian intelligence (KGB) officer, part of the machinery of the very Soviet Union, whose interests Browder’s grandfather had conspired to act in furtherance of.

Vladimir Putin's Soviet era KGB identification photo
Vladimir Putin’s Soviet era KGB identification photo

With Putin, it’s personal

Here is the statement of Putin at the press briefing in Helsinki, having to do with his proposal to have Browder extradited to Moscow, presumably at the behest of the Trump administration :

“But in this case, there’s another condition. This kind of effort should be a mutual one. Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate. They would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence service of the United States whom we believe have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia. And we have to request the presence of our law enforcement.

“For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent a huge amount of money, $400 million as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

“Well, that’s the personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself. But the way the money was earned was illegal. So we have a solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions. So we have an interest of questioning them.”

Putin, of course, is referring to the arrangement he proposed, to allow American investigators access to the contingent of individuals named in the Mueller indictments, in exchange for Kremlin officials to interview former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, Browder’s business associates, and presumably – Browder, himself.

The distinction between our aim to extradite these Russians and Putin’s intention in drawing some personal enemies into his web, lies in the fact that the named persons (all Kremlin military intelligence operatives) in the Justice Department indictment are subject to arrest on very specific charges of espionage – whereas Putin’s wish-list consists of people that are proven to be guilty of nothing more than being a thorn in Putin’s side. 

One of the team that the Kremlin would most certainly assign to conduct these interviews, is an individual that is on both Canadian and American sanctions lists – Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin. We’ll see how he fits into this picture in a moment.

One thing Trump almost certainly knows or should know; Putin’s accusations are not grounded in fact. Not even remotely. What they are, are a species of deflection very reminiscent of the sort of specious counter charges in currency with American ultra nationalists, whose entire political portfolio consists of Trump equities.

Trump followers are now parroting the false charges of Vladimir Putin on social media, in this particular instance, even applying a hashtag, #Browdergate to their campaign to restore Putin’s standing.  It exposes the fact that Russia now has domestic accomplices assisting them in distributing disinformation. Once again, this is an ironic consanguinity to William Browder’s grandfather having been a conduit for Soviet propaganda. The more things change…

The Nekrasov Agit Prop Docu-deception

Andrei Nekrasov - Director / Producer of Agit Prop film, "Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes" reframing the facts of Sergei Magnitsky's death and the Kremlin's role in it.
Andrei Nekrasov – Director / Producer of Agit Prop film, “Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes” reframing the facts of Sergei Magnitsky’s death and the Kremlin’s role in it.

The set up to Putin’s slur on Browder, was a film produced by a Putin insider named Andrei Nekrasov, titled “Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes”. Nekrasov’s  documentary, broadcast on Russian state television (Rossia-1), has all the earmarks of a product intended to frame a counter-narrative to the original case that Bill Browder presented to American lawmakers beginning in 2011 which resulted in the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in September 2010.

Magnitsky Act

The evidence submitted by Browder and others knowledgeable about the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death, led to the passing of the slightly retitled Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. Enacted in 2012, the legislation had the practical effect and result of a sanctions list being created – that has been shared with other national partners in the NATO alliance – including all of the Baltic states in the shadow of Russia.

There are, as of March of this year – 52 people named as subject to the sanctions enforced by the Treasury Department – at least 39 of them, are Russians, directly related to the Magnitsky case. 

The Magnitsky Act is a piece of legislation that caused an eruption of anger with Putin and his corruption network. The kleptocracy in Putin’s circle of influence was suddenly disenfranchised from access to foreign vacations – except to places like Dubai, medical tourism, and Western real estate.  The simple pleasures of looting a country were swept away.

If Nekrasov’s pseudo-documentary were an automobile – one look at the CarFax report and you wouldn’t dream of buying it.  There are a series of critical defects to Nekrasov’s film – one of which is the inclusion of documents represented as official, but which have been assessed by Western intelligence experts as counterfeits. Scans shown in the film were purported to be “secret” British (MI6) and American (CIA) documents, which, it has been established – they are not.

The central premise of the film – that Mr. Browder committed tax fraud and was a participant in a plan to have his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky deprived of medical attention in the prison he was held in, depend on the authenticity of the documents.  The paperwork, when closely examined, reveals what are described by Radio Free Europe as “clumsy syntax and grammatical mistakes — including improper use of English indefinite and definite articles that often stymie native Russian speakers.” 

Another blooper which caught the attention of Western analysts, was a document that Nekrasov represents as showing Mr. Browder (“Agent Solomon”) “was offered by proxies in the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service to arrange the termination of any medical services for Magnitsky…which could lead to his death.”

Valerie Plame checks in

The detail on this specious article of evidence that stood out to those who examined it, was the  signature of a “V. Plame” – intended to reference Valerie Plame, the CIA covert operative whose cover was exposed by Bush administration Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, Scooter Libby.  Mr. Libby, it should be parenthetically noted, was pardoned of his conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump on April 13 of this year:

image of tweet from Valerie Plame - a former CIA operative, who dismisses a reference to her name on documents featured in a film that promotes Vladimir Putin's narrative on the Sergei Magnitsky case

Plame labeled the apocryphal record – represented to have been from 2009 as, “such nonsense” – pointing out that she had retired from the agency in 2007.  She also framed the Trump pardon of Scooter Libby as telegraphing associates under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Muller.  Of the pardon, Plame interprets, “He’s saying, ‘If you get in trouble, don’t spill the beans, I’ll take care of you.’ This is how the mafia works.”

Another film segment featured an email exchange between Mr. Browder and another of Putin’s political opponents, Aleksei Navalny – with the bizarre anachronism of Navalny replying in 2006 to a message sent in 2008.  Maybe Navalny has prophetic powers, who can say?

Nekrasov’s film – the basis of countless fictional accounts on right wing blog sites that prefer Kremlin narratives, was constructed in a remarkably similar manner as to how the Russian government itself, manufactures false accusations and evidence against individuals it classifies as political enemies. Perhaps the most audacious and absurd lie, Nekrasov propagates is this patently false conclusion:                                                          

“Magnitsky wasn’t a whistleblower. Magnitsky did not accuse any police officers. Magnitsky did not even investigate anything. The young man died in a Russian prison. I do not believe it was murder. It was a case of negligence and the Russian system is to blame in many ways, but it wasn’t murder; he wasn’t murdered by the Russian state as Mr. Browder claims.”

It is worth noting that pro-Trump, and consequently, pro-Putin websites commonly advance the idea that Nekrasov’s film was denied screenings due to an alleged lobbying campaign by Mr. Browder. In fact, the venues that declined to screen the ‘documentary’, did so because they were approached by members of Magnitsky’s family, who vehemently disputed the fact patterns Nekrasov sought to establish.

Meet Sergei Magnitsky

Who was Sergei Magnitsky as a person?  Kyle Parker, a case worker at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, describes him to Sean Flynn at GQ:

“Here you have this Russian hero almost of a literary quality in Sergei Magnitsky. He wasn’t a guy who went to rallies with a bullhorn and protested human-rights abuses in Chechnya. He was a bookish, middle-class Muscovite. I see Sergei metaphorically as that Chinese guy standing in front of the tanks, but with a briefcase. He provided an example for all the other Russians that not everybody goes in for the deal, not everybody is corrupt, not everybody looks the other way when people are swindled.”

Why did Sergei Magnitsky die in the Matrosskaya Tishina jail? Magnitsky was a whistle blower who outlined evidence of financial fraud – an illegal tax refund of $230 million to a criminal syndicate – the largest tax refund of state funds in Russian history, in the preliminary stages of a corruption case.  Magnitsky, a lawyer with the law firm, Firestone Duncan, was a specialist in forensic examination of financial fraud.

On June 4, 2007, Moscow police, acting on a trumped up accusation by Putin connected cronies, raided Firestone Duncan and its client, Browder’s firm, Hermitage Capital. The raid team seized founding documents of Hermitage shell corporations and reverse engineered them in order to establish a claim of ownership. In effect, Hermitage’s business identities were stolen.

The result was that the pirated businesses were used as a device, not only for tax evasion, but for fraudulent applications for tax rebates based on tax returns with fictitious losses amounting to $230 million dollars.  Officials inside Moscow’s Tax Offices 28 and 25, including Olga Stepanova, Elena Animisova and Olga Tsareva cooperated to facilitate Klyuev’s grand scheme to exploit the Russian treasury.

To put the scheme in the simplest of terms, it would be a more complex version of the sort of financial crime so commonly facilitated by creating new documents and entities resulting from identity theft.  When word of this hijacking of assets leaked out to the public, a criminal case was initiated in which Magnitsky was called as a witness. His testimony against, among others – two Interior Ministry officials — Major Pavel Karpov and Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov earned him a retributive arrest.


Major Pavel Karpov, one of Putin's Interior Ministry officials identified as responsible for the events that led to Sergei Magnitsky's death.
Major Pavel Karpov, one of Putin’s Interior Ministry officials identified as responsible for the events that led to Sergei Magnitsky’s death.

Magnitsky summed up the operation instigated by these actors, saying, “that it was precisely the fabricated criminal case initiated by Kuznetsov that made it possible to confiscate the statutory documents and the registration documents of the stolen companies and made it possible to deprive the legal owners of their control over said companies”

The government officials involved in the looting, essentially flipped the charges on Magnitsky – virtually similar to those which he testified to against the actual criminal cabal, identified as the Klyuev Group. These tax fraud schemes have been rampant in Russia ever since the end of the Soviet Union – and in fact, the Klyuev Group executed a similar but smaller scale tax fraud operation a year before, in 2006, that netted $107 million dollars.

The mastermind of the brazen financial crime that Sergei Magnitsky knew all too much about – Dmitry Klyuev, had been the kingpin in a long series of crimes that Major Karpov and Lt. Col. Kuznetsov had participated in prior.

In fact, Michael Weiss, writing in World Affairs, details that another of Klyuev’s victims, Fyodor Mikheev testified that (enforcer Sergei Orlov) had informed him that Karpov and Kuznetsov “were the vengeful sword of the Presidential Administration and they are allowed to take any bribes, and the Prosecutor of the City of Moscow would sign any document they submit to him.”

In Magnitsky’s own words:

“The criminal prosecution carried out against me was ordered to serve as retribution. The investigation of this case is being conducted with numerous violations of the law. On many occasions I presented the evidence that incriminates the members of the investigative group in the falsification of material evidence and of documents characterising me. On that basis, my defense lawyers and I have requested to disqualify and replace the investigators who have violated the law. The legal abuses committed by state officials have been repeatedly challenged to their superiors and to the courts. My position is obviously irritating for the investigators. It is impossible to justify the charges they brought against me, as I assert again that I did not commit any offenses, and the documents collected by the investigators prove my innocence. The expert opinions produced by experts working in state bodies with obvious conflict of interest, contain evidently false and partial conclusions invented to please the investigators. If this case were destined to go to trial, these experts would simply be unable to justify their conclusions during cross-examination by the defense counsel.”

Magnitsky was an extreme threat to the kleptocracy, because he had extensive knowledge of where all the skeletons were located.  It would not do to have him testifying in an actual trial proceeding. Because of this, he was disposed of.  Klyuev relied on Oleg Silchenko to execute the plan to arrest Magnitsky and once detained, plot his murder, with the assistance of other actors in the Interior Ministry and the Russian prison system.

photo of Sergei Magnitsky, displayed at a family memorial service.
photo of Sergei Magnitsky, displayed at a family memorial service.

How did Magnitsky die? 

Prison officials attributed Magnitsky’s death to the cause of complications stemming from Pancreatitis and consequentially, a ruptured abdominal membrane. 

The confusion that stemmed from the process of accounting for Magnitsky’s demise, resulted in authorities not being able to keep their stories straight. The next official cause of death was represented as “sudden heart failure”.

During the 358 days that Magnitsky was held in the infamous Moscow area jail, Magnitsky filed 450 complaints and a 40 page affidavit regarding his atrocious treatment, prior to his death on Monday, November 16, 2009.

Incredibly, a cover up initiated by the Interior Ministry, made the ludicrous claim that Magnitsky had “never complained about his health,” and that his “sudden” death “was a shock” for investigators.

The problem with that assertion, is that Russians that have served on the Moscow Commissions for Public Monitoring of Detention Facilities – have reported that pleas from inmates for medical treatment, not only fall on deaf ears, but that when an inmate deteriorates into a critical condition or dies, Russian prison authorities will falsely state that the prisoner never submitted a medical request.  Anna Karetnikova, a member of the commission who has fought for reforms, details that:      

If we are not around, say, the only way an incarcerated inmate can get something is by filing a complaint or petition. We expended a great deal of effort making sure these complaints and petitions were registered normally, because basically they save lives. It can happen that someone asks to see a doctor for six months and submits petitions to this effect, but none of them is registered. Then he dies, and we are sent an official reply that he never requested medical treatment.

Magnitsky’s family were refused the opportunity to examine the autopsy report or to be allowed to have an independent pathologist examine Magnitsky’s corpse. The family only saw Sergei’s body at the burial ceremony, where they saw bruises indicating trauma and that several of his fingers had been broken. Breaking the  fingers of detained political prisoners has been part and parcel of standard operating procedure going back to and beyond the Soviet era. 

A contingent of human rights observers, including the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur, the Moscow Helsinki Group and Amnesty International – among others, investigated the circumstances of Magnitsky’s death and concluded he was murdered. 

Amazingly, even then Russian President Dimitri Medvedev’s Human Rights Council produced a report admitting to extreme medical neglect, naming Senior Interior Ministry investigator Oleg Silchenko and the chief administrator at Matrosskaya Tishina, Ivan Pokopenko, as responsible for Magnitsky’s death – also acknowledging abuse and torture. The report summarizes that Magnitsky “was completely deprived of medical care before his death” in prison and that “there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the death was triggered by beating.”

Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow, where Sergei Magnitsky died after beatings, torture and medical neglect. This and other prisons in Russia, are notorious for adverse and inhumane conditions facing prisoners.
Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow, where Sergei Magnitsky died after beatings, torture and medical neglect. This and other prisons in Russia, are notorious for adverse and inhumane conditions facing prisoners.

Amnesty International cites the fact that copies of the reports written by the duty officer in charge, which were made public later, confirmed that the staff – eight prison guards had handcuffed Magnitsky and  beat him to death with rubber batons.   

Another government ministry agreed with the Human Rights Council’s findings after launching their own investigation. 

The Public Monitoring Commission released a report in November 2009, concluding that prison officials used coercion to attempt to secure a confession from Magnitsky, and that he was placed into “torturous conditions” which led to his death.

The report also concluded that Magnitsky was arrested and tried on false premises.

Let that sink in.

This was a report ordered by the man (Medvedev) that Putin elevated as a office placeholder until Putin could re-assume the Presidency – and it completely repudiates Nekrasov’s film and the subsequent accounts of the fact pattern associated with it.

Medvedev’s commission’s report was essentially a small hiccup in an ephemeral political tactic to impress Western observers that Russia was taking the corruption bull by the horns. The expiration date was short.

Since then, even though the report lives on and is easily accessible on the internet, Putin’s government studiously avoids acknowledging both the existence of the report as well as the commission’s conclusions.  Valery Borshchev, who served as the lead investigator on the commission, told Foreign Policy magazine of then Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, “When we met in the past, [Bastrykin] was very keen on pursuing this case. But now there is no more reaction.”

Andrei Nekrasov’s pseudo documentary, is basically a re-scripting of the facts already established by the Kremlin.  Under media scrutiny, he has been caught in various lies, including misrepresentations of persons he quotes in the production.

The nightmare for Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Natalia Nikolaevna and his other family members was far from over, even after his death. Because Putin’s judicial apparatus was appointed to conduct a posthumous trial of Magnitsky, Sergei’s mother was hounded by the Federal Security Service to provide testimony that would add a layer of legitimacy to their miscarriage of justice and state crimes.

CNN also reports that in late March 2016, a lawyer for Magnitsky’s family nearly died when he fell from the fourth floor of his apartment building, a day before he was due to submit new evidence to a Moscow court.

Browder himself checks in on all of this in a guest article in response to the Helsinki summit in Time magazine:

“Putin’s latest allegation that I donated $400 million to Hillary Clinton is so ludicrous and untrue that it falls into delusion. I’ve never made a political donation to Hillary Clinton or any other political candidate. It’s in the same category as other Russian government allegations against me: they accused me of being a serial killer; they accused me of being a CIA/MI6 agent determined to destroy the Russian government; and they accused me of somehow stealing $4.8 billion of IMF money back in the 1990s that was destined for the Russian Treasury. These guys have seriously lost their cool and are beginning to make mistakes.”

On November 12, 2010, Transparency International, as a rebuke to the disgraceful, ginned up Kremlin  conviction of a man they already murdered, posthumously awarded Magnitsky the Integrity Award for his fight as a single individual against government corruption in Russia.  Michael Weiss reports that regrettably, “to date, no one actually associated with the Klyuev Group or the conspiracy to rob the Russian taxpayer and railroad Magnitsky has yet been brought to justice.” 

org chart showing the various players within the Russian organized crime unit known as the Klyuev Group

That being said, international law enforcement agencies in recent years have coordinated together in asset-forfeiture seizures that appear to have recovered a substantial amount of the ill gotten gain. Even so, some of the stolen money that cost Sergei Magnitsky his life and which continues to cause Bill Browder to be situationally aware of his personal security every moment, has been traced to arms transactions – including some linked to the chemical weapons that are alleged to have been used in attacks against civilians in Syria.

But there are other threads and dimensions to the Magnitsky commentary. In the next in this series, we will examine how Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is studying additional players tied to Putin’s efforts to lift the sanctions associated with the Magnitsky Act. One of them is connected to the meeting held at Trump Tower in June 2016, involving Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, who is now being tried in federal court on financial fraud charges.      

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