60 Minutes: Enemy of the State
It sounds like a story out of a spy novel. While Russia is in the spotlight for the 2014 Winter Olympics, 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley said that 20% of the country’s economy is affected by graft, even by the government. American businessman Bill Browder has created a rift between Moscow and Washington, D.C. Why is he an enemy of the state?
“The Russian regime is a criminal regime. We’re dealing with a nuclear country run by a bunch of Mafia crooks,” Bill Browder said, and he is on a mission, dedicating his life and fortune to imprisonating particular Russian officials. There is a warrant out for his arrest there, and he is in fear for his life.
60 Minutes: Bill Browder Corruption in Russia
Texts and emails threatening him are commonplace now. But in 1996, he went to Moscow pursuing business opportunities in the new Russia. He bought companies that were being improperly run by the government, pushing out the corrupt managers as part of the plan.
Then, he was dedicated to doing good while making money in Russia, and he brought his business acumen to the table, sometimes making enemies as well as making money, investing billions in the economy and giving investors a return of up to 35 times their investment.
But Russia’s government and courts were still coming along after a regime change there, and in 2005, things changed for him. He was detained at the Russian airport before being deported as a threat to national security. He could not yet imagine that he was a government target.
60 Minutes: Russian Tax Service & Bill Browder Deported
The Russian Tax Service was behind this, according to Browder, who was deported from Russia. He was raided 19 months later, during which the ownership documents for his companies were seized. The companies were then reincorporated under new owners as part of a scheme Browder told 60 Minutes was part of a large scheme involving many government officials.
He said that three of his companies were stolen when police seized his documents. The new owners then applied for illegal tax refunds in the millions, which was approved very quickly, in a single day. That suggested the corruption had crept high up into the government. He hired Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow tax attorney who had supposedly never lost a case.
Magnitsky, who had invested heavily in the new Russia, was raising two children with his wife. He expected the law to protect him as he identified suspects who could be behind his client’s misfortunes. But he gave evidence to prosecutors only to find the tables turned, as he was arrested instead.
60 Minutes: Sergei Magnitsky Cause of Death
Magnitsky’s wife, Natalia, told 60 Minutes that he was arrested for tax evasion at his home. He would never return to his family. He remained in prison for approximately one year, and he was tortured, Browder told Scott Pelley. His health was affected after six months, and he was transferred to another jail.
He persisted in writing of complaints, and there is documentation of his beating by police. His own lawyer helped him apply more than 20 times for medical attention. At age 37 in 2009, he was transferred to a medical facility, where he later died. The government denied his mother’s request for an independent autopsy, despite the defense wounds on his wrists.
Citizens considered his death a martyrdom. Browder brought his former lawyer’s wife and mother to the US, where they spoke on Capitol Hill as his campaign to ban 18 Russians from entering America were successful. Artem Kuznetsov, the police officer Magnitsky accused of being behind the raids, was on the list.
60 Minutes: Russian Ban on US Adoption
The Russian Parliament retaliated with a ban on American adoption of Russian children, putting a damper on relations between the countries. President Vladimir Putin insisted that Magnitsky died of a heart attack, and that sometimes people simply die in jail.
But Browder told 60 Minutes that a Russian lawyer called him in 2009 with the news of Magnitsky’s death, and in 2013, Browder and Magnitsky were tried in absentia for tax evasion. Pelley asked whether Bill Browder was in any way guilty.
Browder said that you can look at the facts and see the credibility issues with those behind the investigation and trial. His own London company employs investigators who are still at work on the case. They have been following the money and posting their findings online.
60 Minutes: US DOJ Russian Money Laundering
Cars, vacation homes, and other properties are some of the spoils that Browder’s investigations have unearthed, some in the names of individuals making menial salaries. But nothing said about these people results in negative action against them, causing Browder to suspect that the conspiracy reaches to the Russian president.
Browder said that Putin has been on record denying any crime committed by his officials, and points to official statements as evidence of his implication in a cover-up. Both Browder and Magnitsky were convicted in absentia. Meanwhile, Browder has made it his life’s work to expose corruption in the country, in pursuit of justice for his lawyer’s survivors.
Scott Pelley reported that the US Department of Justice has filed a suit against 11 companies who are accused of laundering stolen Russian money through Manhattan real estate. These types of questions could have a negative impact on Russia’s business, something Putin has acknowledged.