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2 Mar, 2020 19:43

Bill Browder points finger at Bernie Sanders on Magnitsky Act vote, but the real story is his own corruption

Bill Browder points finger at Bernie Sanders on Magnitsky Act vote, but the real story is his own corruption

UK investor Bill Browder has jumped aboard the anti-Bernie Sanders train, smearing the 2020 frontrunner as a Russian pawn for a 2012 vote on the Magnitsky Act, which he championed. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot more to the story.

To understand the motivation behind Browder’s finger-pointing at Sanders, one needs to do a little reading into Browder’s own background — beyond the glowing praise that can be found in pages of Western media. 

The American-born banker who heads the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund (and renounced his US citizenship to avoid paying taxes) made his fortune in 1990’s Russia. When things were going well for him, he was decidedly pro-Putin, praising the Russian president in a 2004 op-ed for “fighting to stop the oligarchs from taking over the country.” 

Things took a serious turn for the worse a few years later, when after fleeing Russia, Browder accused officials of murdering his “lawyer” Sergey Magnitsky (who was actually a tax expert) in prison after he allegedly ‘uncovered’ a massive tax fraud scheme supposedly run by two Moscow police officers. Yet, Browder was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for running his own tax evasion scheme and was later found guilty of embezzlement. Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention accused of complicity in the scheme.

A report by the independent Moscow Public Monitoring Commissions (PMC) slammed the harsh prison conditions in which Magnitsky was kept and accused Russian authorities of failing in their duty to protect his life — but Browder's story of deliberate murder was altogether more dramatic.

Also on rt.com Tycoon who pushed Magnitsky Act warns EU minister that opposing Russia-bashing is ‘career ruining’

Browder used his side of the story to push for the blacklisting of Russian officials and the imposition of sanctions on Moscow over the case, resulting ultimately in the passing of the Magnitsky Act in the US — the act which he now (disingenuously) complains Sanders did not support.

“In the seven years since that vote, I’ve never heard an explanation why [Sanders] voted against. Not that there is one,” Browder wrote on Twitter, setting off a new round of accusations that the Vermont senator is secretly pro-Kremlin.

Browder’s tweet came as anti-Sanders journalists amplify baseless accusations that Russia is ‘interfering’ in the 2020 election on behalf of the anti-establishment senator. 

What Browder does not mention, however, is that Sanders voted for a beefed up version of the Magnitsky Act in 2015. Nor, in this effort to imply that Sanders is a Russian patsy, does Browder mention that Sanders called Putin an “autocratic thug” just last week or that he has regularly criticized the Russian leader and Russian foreign policy.

Also on rt.com CNN enlists help of fraudster Browder & Integrity Initiative ‘experts’ to fan Russia meddling claims in UK

Browder has built his entire public image on being Putin’s “enemy no. 1” over the Magnitsky affair — an effort which has involved publicly smearing anyone who questions him or his narrative of events regarding Magnitsky’s death. In doing so, he has achieved almost demigod status in the Western media. 

But who really has more to answer for when it comes to the infamous Magnitsky Act? Sanders, or Browder himself?

A 2016 documentary produced by Russian filmmaker (and staunch Putin critic) Andrei Nekrasov presented a competing narrative which contradicts Browder’s version of events and accuses him of pulling a massive con on the US and the EU in an effort to avoid extradition to Russia.

With the help of his lawyers, Browder launched a massive censorship campaign against the movie, forcing the cancellation of its screening at the European Parliament and even had it removed from the Vimeo platform. He then accused Nekrasov of being “pro-Kremlin” despite a catalog of work which proves him to be the opposite. 

In 2019, an investigation by German magazine Der Spiegel delved into the “inconsistencies” in Browder’s Magnitsky story and suggested that the businessman may have “used a noble cause” (highlighting abuses in Russia’s prison system) “to manipulate Western governments.” The article also noted Browder’s tendency to “attack politicians who disagree with him.” His recent attack on Sanders seems to fit the trend of attacking politicians, though ironically, there is little evidence that Sanders disagrees with him at all.

Also on rt.com Anti-Russian sanctions based on fraudster’s tales? Spiegel finds Magnitsky narrative fed to West by Browder is riddled with lies

After a four-hour-long interview with Browder himself in London, Der Spiegel concluded that the dozens of documents he presented to supposedly corroborate his story did not all stand up to scrutiny. When Browder complained to the German Press Council, Der Spiegel stood by its investigation, saying his complaint had “no basis” and reiterated its “considerable doubts” about his version of events, which included “inconsistencies, contradictions and unproven claims.”

An article on the case in the New Republic in 2015 noted that while Browder has always been eager to share his story with the media, he has been less inclined to share it under oath, asking if Browder really was the victim of persecution in Russia, “why is he so reluctant to offer his sworn testimony in an American courtroom?” One of Browder's attempts to dodge a subpoena was captured on camera in 2015.

Even before all that, when Pavel Karpov, one of the policemen Browder accused of being behind Magnitsky's arrest and killing took him to court in London for defamation in 2012, the judge ruled that British courts had no jurisdiction in the case — but he also called Browder a “story-teller” who did “not come close to pleading facts which, if proved, would justify the sting of the libel.”

Fast-forward to 2020 and Browder is suddenly pointing the finger at Sanders over his vote in 2012, while ignoring his vote in 2015 — all while serious questions remain about how the act even came to be in the first place. 

The question is: Is Browder truly worried that Sanders is a Russian stooge, or has his sudden urge to hint at this baseless suggestion got more to do with his own political preferences as Super Tuesday looms?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.