Friday, November 29, 2019

"The Case of Sergei Magnitsky: Questions Cloud Story Behind U.S. Sanctions"

Back in March 8's "Death in Monaco" we intro'd with:
I have a suspicion we will be hearing more about Mr. Safra and Russia and some of his non-Russian associates as 2019 unfolds.
Whether or not that comes to pass this is a good story well told....
Although it is cutting it a bit close on the '2019' time frame, here is one of Mr. Safra's associates.
And as noted in the introduction to 2018's "The /Other/ Russia Story":
I've been meaning to tell some of the story of the "S" boys: Summers, Steyer and Shleifer, in serial form but here Mr. Warsh sketches an overview that I couldn't match.
No one who was investing in Russia during that time-period has clean hands, no one, including Mr. Browder who hit the newswires earlier today....
From Der Spiegel, a major piece:

November 26, 2019
The story of Sergei Magnitsky has come to symbolize the brutal persecution of whistleblowers in Russia. Ten years after his death, inconsistencies in Magnitsky's story suggest he may not have been the hero many people -- and Western governments -- believed him to be.
There's a tombstone in northeastern Moscow that bears the portrait of a man with a friendly yet somewhat uneasy smile. His name is Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky. He was born in April 1972 in Odessa, Ukraine, and died in November 2009 in Moscow. To this day, 10 years after the fact, the circumstances of his death in a Russian pretrial detention facility remain unclear. 

There are two versions of what happened to Magnitsky. The more well-known version has all the makings of a conspiracy thriller. It's been repeated in thousands of articles, TV interviews and in parliamentary hearings. In this version of the story, the man from the Moscow cemetery fought nobly against a corrupt system and was murdered for it.

The other version is more complicated. In it, nobody is a hero.

The first version has had geopolitical implications. In 2012, the United States passed the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions against Russian officials who were believed to have played a role in his death. The measure was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama after receiving a broad bipartisan majority. Back then, if there was one thing that politicians on both sides of the aisle could agree on, it was their opposition to a nefarious Russian state. In 2017, Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act, which enabled the U.S. to impose sanctions against Russia for human rights violations worldwide.

The facilitator behind these pieces of legislation is Bill Browder, Magnitsky's former boss in Moscow. "When he was put to the ultimate test, he became the ultimate hero," Browder says of Magnitsky. Browder was born in the U.S.. For years, his company, Hermitage Capital Management, was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia. At the time, Browder was an advocate for Russian President Vladimir Putin in the West. That is, until he was prohibited from entering Russia in 2005.

Public Enemy No. 1
Today, Browder refers to himself as "Putin's No. 1 Enemy." From his office in London's Finsbury district, Browder coordinates a campaign he calls "Justice for Sergei Magnitsky." His goal is to get other countries to impose sanctions against Russia for what happened to his former employee. So far, four other countries have followed the U.S.' lead. For now, Browder is concentrating on Europe. He has spoken to politicians in Norway, Sweden and France. He came to Berlin in May and spoke with the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag. He also had an appointment at the Chancellery.

Browder tells a gripping story of how Magnitsky, the whistleblower, is believed to have died. This narrative is his ticket into the political sphere. It's why he's received by members of parliament, diplomats and human rights activists alike, often with open arms. They support his push for more legislation because they see it as setting an important precedent: Corrupt regimes all over the world that are violating their citizens' rights must be held accountable and made to suffer consequences in the form of entry bans and frozen accounts as laid out by the Global Magnitsky Act. The law makes it more difficult, if only slightly, for autocrats to sneer at and ignore human rights.

But there's another version of the Magnitsky saga, one that is more contradictory than Browder's telling and more difficult to summarize. The legal documents that underpin it fill dozens of binders, not only in Moscow, but also in London and New York. After sifting through thousands of pages, one might begin to wonder: Did the perfidious conspiracy to murder Magnitsky ever really take place? Or is Browder a charlatan whose story the West was too eager to believe? The certainty surrounding the Magnitsky affair becomes muddled in the documents, particularly the clear division between good and evil. The Russian authorities' take is questionable, but so is everyone else's -- including Bill Browder's.

The cases raises uncomfortable questions for the West. In Europe and the U.S., critics of Russia often argue from a position of moral superiority. But with the Magnitsky sanctions, it could be that the activist Browder used a noble cause to manipulate Western governments.

One thing that stays the same no matter which version is told, is this: Magnitsky is dead and he was the victim of a terrible injustice.....