with William Browder CEO, Hermitage Capital, Edward Lucas
International Editor, The Economist and Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton
1 – 2pm, Tuesday 10th July 2012
Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2009, a 37-year old Russian attorney named Sergei Magnitsky died in custody after a year of severe medical neglect and beatings at the hands of prison officials. His crime? To expose a $230 million tax fraud perpetrated by manipulation of the official documents of Hermitage Capital Management, the hedge fund that had employed Magnitsky.
Magnitsky represented the best hopes of post-Soviet Russia—a man who believed in his country, believed in the rule of law, and truly believed that his efforts to expose corruption would prevail. Instead, he was framed for the very crimes he exposed and killed in prison after refusing to confess to crimes he did not commit. For this reason, Magnitsky’s name has become synonymous with integrity and courage, not only in Russia, but around the world.
As the fight to secure justice for Magnitsky goes on, disturbing evidence continues to emerge suggesting the extent of criminality within the heart of Russia. The new short documentary film, “The Magnitsky Files,” alleges alarming links between a powerful and dangerous organised crime syndicate and the officials implicated in Magnitsky’s detention and death. The film premiered in Washington with remarks by US Senator John McCain, the co-sponsor of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, currently under consideration by Congress. To date, over 250,000 Russians have already watched “The Magnitsky Files” since its release in late June, and it has become one of the most frequent posts on Twitter, live Internet blogs and other social media.
By kind invitation of Dominic Raab MP, the Russia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society was pleased to invite you to a screening of “The Magnitsky Files,” followed by a panel discussion with William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital who has led the fight for justice for Sergei Magnitsky, and Edward Lucas, International Editor of The Economist and author of Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West.
TIME: 1 – 2pm
DATE: Tuesday 10th July 2012
VENUE: Committee Room 9, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
To attend please RSVP to: email@example.com
William Browder is the Founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, a leading global asset management firm specializing in emerging and frontier markets worldwide. Mr Browder was the largest foreign investor in Russia until November 2005, when he was denied entry to the country and declared “a threat to national security” by the Russian government, presumably for exposing corruption at large Russian companies.
In 2008, Mr Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a massive fraud committed by Russian government officials involving the theft of $230 million of state taxes which Hermitage had already paid in 2006. After testifying against the officials involved, Mr Magnitsky was arrested and imprisoned without trial by those very same government officials. He was tortured in an attempt to force him to retract his testimony and to falsely incriminate himself and his client in the crimes. After spending a year in pre-trial detention, Magnitsky died on 16 November 2009 as a result of torture and denial of medical care, despite over twenty requests for assistance.
Since that time, Mr Browder has led a worldwide media, legal and legislative campaign to bring the perpetrators of Magnitsky’s imprisonment and murder to justice. As a direct result of Mr Browder’s efforts, the US Congress is currently poised to pass the landmark Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which has been unanimously approved by both the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees. If passed, the Magnitsky Act will impose visa entry bans and asset freezes on those Russians who took part in Sergei’s illegal arrest, torture and death. Similar proposals are currently under consideration by the EU, EU member states and the Canadian Parliament.
Edward Lucas is the International Editor of The Economist. Having covered Russia and Central and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years as a journalist, Mr Lucas is an expert on energy security and on Russian foreign and security policy. He is the author of The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West and, most recently, Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West.
Mr Lucas previously acted as the Moscow Bureau Chief for The Economist from 1998 to 2002. He studied economics at the London School of Economics and speaks five languages—German, Russian, Polish, Czech and Lithuanian. Mr Lucas has also served as a foreign correspondent for The Independent, the BBC World Service, and a producer at BBC Radio, and was Managing Editor of The Baltic Independent, an English-language weekly in the Baltic States.
In 2008 Mr Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a massive fraud committed by Russian government officials that involved the theft of US$230 million of state taxes which Hermitage had already paid in 2006. After testifying against the officials involved, Mr Magnitsky was arrested and imprisoned without trial by those very same government officials. He was tortured in an attempt to force him to retract his testimony and to falsely incriminate himself and his client in the crimes. William Browder is the Founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, a leading global asset management firm specializing in emerging and frontier markets worldwide.
About the Russia Studies Centre
The Russia Studies Centre is a research and advocacy unit operating within the Henry Jackson Society. It is dedicated to analysing contemporary Russian political developments and promoting human rights and political liberty in the Russian Federation. The Centre is jointly headed by the Henry Jackson Society’s Communications Director Michael Weiss and Research Fellow Julia Pettengill.
Dominic Raab MP
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Thank you for coming and welcome to the House of Commons. My thanks is for the Henry Jackson Society first of for coordinating today’s event. Can I just, before we get straight into it, welcome our panel? On my left we have Bill Browder, who is the founder, as some of you may already know, and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management. He has extensive experience with working in Russia, and was one of its leading foreign investors. It was his company that was the victim of the record $230 million fraud that Sergei Magnitsky exposed and subsequently paid for with his life. Bill has been a champion in the fight for justice for Sergei Magnitsky, and it is in large part thanks to him that we are gathered here today and that this video and the progress we’re making on their accountability is happening.
On my right we have is Ed Lucas, who is the editor of the international section of The Economist. I believe that I am right to say that he’s covered Central-Eastern Europe for two decades. He’s a uniquely well-placed author, his insights into the current state of corruption in Russia and also some of the broader strategic questions arising from the Magnitsky case. But before we hear from my experts, we are going to watch this short documentary, and it sets out the appalling background to the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, but also the impunity of those responsible. And as many of you would know, the particular perversity of this case, those who Magnitsky exposed or the very ones or amongst those, who came for him afterwards.
In terms of what we can do next, there are modest signs that Western governments are starting to take action. In the US we have, I’m sure we’ll get an update on the Magnitsky Bill which was issued last year calling for travel bans and asset freezes against Magnitsky’s tormentors. Hilary Clinton, I believe, has responded with visa bans with some of those implicated in the case. Here in the UK, I had the privilege to lead a debate back in March which was backed by a cross-party consensus, including five former foreign ministers from all the main parties. The House of Commons unanimously called for an equivalent of the US bill to be brought forward in legislative proposals here in Britain.
The first modest sign of a reaction from the foreign office has been in its annual human rights report in April, where they said it’s a matter of policy where there is credible evidence that there is an individual who has committed gross human rights abuses, that person would not normally be entitled to come to the UK. These are very modest beginnings, but at least they give some hope that we’ve got something to build on. Our panel today will offer some insight into the Magnitsky case as well as a slightly strategic prospective on what we should now do. After these comments, there will be plenty of opportunities to ask questions, but to get us started I’m going to hand it over to Bill and the Magnitsky Files films that he’s been putting together.
Thank you all for coming. I’m not going to do much talking right now because I want to do a lot of the talking after you have watched this movie. But let me just tell you very quickly that after Sergei Magnitsky was murdered in Russia, I and a number of other colleagues, friends, family and associates of Sergei made a commitment to his memory which was that we’re not going to let these people get away with killing him. We have worked intensively and in a lot of different formats, and one of the formats we have worked in, is to conduct various investigations into who did it, how they did it, why they did it, and this movie is a result of a long period of investigation. It’s a very dense movie with a lot of information in it, but it tells a very clear and compelling story that the Russian government and organised crime are now one of the same. I’ll let you watch the movie and then myself, Dominic and Ed will say some words afterwards, and then we can discuss what should be done after this shocking bit of information.
[“The Magnitsky Files” is screened]
Dominic Raab MP
Great, thank you very much for this video. I think I will hand this first to Bill, then to Ed and then to comments and reactions.
Why don’t we do Ed first and then I’ll say a few words.
First of all, thank you very much Dominic for hosting this and getting this Magnitsky issue onto the floor perhaps, and thanks to Bill for another gripping video. And I hope none of you are taking notes– you don’t need to because it’s all on the website. I know it’s quite dense, and for those of you who don’t know the Magnitsky story it’s worth watching this video and the other ones, and getting a sense of both the depth and scale of the crime. What Bill’s latest video does is to show that it’s not a one-off.
These are one of the points that are sometimes made by the regime and their defenders that bad things happen in every country, that America has places that are more corrupt than others, Britain has places more corrupt than others, and it is just a bad apple in the barrel. I think what this shows is that it is a part of a pattern. The way the regime operates in Russia, by stealing tons of billions overall and also intimidating and in some cases killing the people who stand in their way. One thing I would ask Bill, do you have a good libel lawyer? Because when that video came out, I wanted to put it on the Eastern Approaches website as part of the Economist.com, and our libel lawyer took one look at it and said you can link to it, but he said don’t embed this on the website. Basically, whoever read my book would know, my latest book about Russia, the first chapter is about Magnitsky. It was a huge problem to get that passed our libel lawyer. My publishers were very worried about the allegations that were made in the context of the investigation to the fraud and death of Magnitsky. It cost a lot of money and a lot of careful wording just to get them into print. My question to Bill is, have you ever had any legal complaint either from Mr Klyuev or his representatives, or deep from the Renaissance capital as you mention from the …[inaudible]…family context in this video?
Something very interesting has happened this weekend. Dimitri Kluyev, who always has been an enigma to us, he was a ghost as far as we can see; the only picture we have was that one passport photograph. He came out of the woodwork and showed up at the OSCE parliamentary assembly in Monaco where we were showing this movie, he showed up with Andrey Pavlov, the lawyer, at a gathering for parliamentary officials, and there he is lobbying against the Magnitsky act. This is a 30 seconds clip, so we can all enjoy it. He is the big guy who is taking off a badge, that’s him, and he was officially allowed to come to this event by swapping badges with the official members of the Russian delegation. Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s watch him go up the escalator first.
Here is a man where there is credible and verifiable evidence that he was involved in an $800 million series of tax thefts from the Russian government. His lawyer, who has absolutely played an integral role of doing this whole thing, both of them are linked to a case where Sergei Magnitsky was murdered when exposing that case, and he is a guest of the Russian government to lobby against sanctions to punish the people who did this. This says it all, as far as I can tell, about the Russian government’s position, and to sort of expand on that thought, Putin, yesterday, was at the Foreign Ministry, he goes once a year to make a speech at the foreign ministry. Through this pep-talk of ambassadors at the foreign ministry people, the main thing he was encouraging them to do is to lobby and fight everywhere possible against these Magnitsky sanctions that are rolling out in different countries.
It raises a very fundamental question, which is, with such evidence and such clear culpability of so many different people and government officials, why would they risk the reputation of the whole country to protect these people and to fight against these sanctions? The obvious answer is they are not protecting mid-level officials, which is what we are showing here, they are protecting themselves. As Ed says, this isn’t just a one-off crime, this is the tip of an enormous ice-berg. The only thing we can do that we’ve done differently than all the other victims of all the other crimes, is that we have gathered all the evidence and we put it out in an incontrovertible format, and not just there but in other different ways, where none of these stuff now is now a matter of speculation, it is pretty much as a matter of fact. I think that this case essentially laid down the gauntlet for the Russian government, which is now basically siding with the criminals. They defined themselves as the criminals, not just to the international community but to the Russian community as well. This will ultimately, I believe, be one of the major chinks in their armour. There is nothing they can say about this to any reasonable person.
The answer to your question, if you have a decent lawyer, presumably your attitude is…?
Bring them on, I’d love to have them here. All you guys are such a bunch of scardey-cats! On the other hand, put it out there— I mean I realise you don’t have the resources that I do. These guys have committed grave crimes, I’m not worried. Come here and sue me.
Let’s open it up to the audience. Anyone got questions?
My name is…[inaudible]… Clearly, they seem to establish lies from Moscow to tax payments… [inaudible]… in Cyprus and Geneva, was clearly exceptionally large fraud, a standard of Russia post-communism… [inaudible]… Will you venture any guess as to how much of tax revenues are constantly lost for Russian government as a result of these frauds?
Bill actually has a great line that the top thousand people in Russia have stolen a trillion dollars over ten years.
Not all from taxes, but from a bunch of resources. Basically, in my estimation, most of the government budget. So every country has a budget, the collection of taxes, and they are supposed to spend it on stuff, so there are two ways that officials can steal money in Russia: some of these guys we saw here, and this was just one scene of mining of money from corrupt officials, is by stealing money from taxes they were collecting. But there are some taxes that actually get collected after this money was stolen, and then what happens is that you have all these spending scams. For example, a road will be built in Russia and the road will cost ten times the amount per kilometre as the road in Germany. Why? Because nine times the price of the road in Russia gets kicked back, and one time they actually pay for it, the road won’t be properly built. Same thing with equipment in hospitals. Same thing with pipelines. So there are all sorts of different scams where they steal some money. I was just in Monaco at this OSCE parliamentary assembly, and it was just the most remarkable thing going to Monaco these days. Every second person is Russian there, and many of them are government officials, many of them are there spending the money that they stole.
Can I just ask, how many people in the room either are Russian or born in Russia? Good sprinkling. I want to correct Dominic with one thing he said in the beginning, when he said Bill was the victim of this fraud. Actually, Bill got his company stolen, but at the time he had already gotten his money out of Russia. The victim of this fraud and all the other ones is the Russian people. It is a very clever sight of hand that the Kremlin uses quite a lot to when its fighting off critics like Bill and myself, when they say this is… [inaudible]… this is anti-Russia campaign, and actually it’s not the real… [inaudible]… of who is stealing money in the Kremlin. It is really paradoxical to me that they then cast people like Bill as if they were kind of demented, prejudiced, anti-Russia …[inaudible]… When actually they’re taking up the cause of the Russian taxpayer, and actually the cause of the Russian middle class, the cause of the people.
One of the things that I think are undermining the Kremlin in the eyes of the Russian public is that so many people know someone like Sergei Magnitsky. Sergei Magnitsky is the …[inaudible]… of the new Russian middle class. The educated, cosmopolitan, well-placed professionals. The sort of person who would make you optimistic about the future. It is someone like that who could be bumped off just for doing his job. Just like Mikheev can be jailed for something that is entirely not his fault; that his wife was threatened with rape just because her husband has been kidnapped. This is very corrosive for the regime’s legitimacy. Putin’s great message was, “I’m the guy who brought stability and order Russia.” We know that behind this facade of “stability and order,” what’s actually going on is looting and murder.
Quick question, in particular for Mr Browder. As a businessman and investor in Russia, they are half in and half out …[inaudible]… Why are you making this choice to fight where you could pay it off, as most people do, pay it off and keep your money outside? Why are you making this particular choice?
I have no choice. I have a young man who was my lawyer, who I asked to be my lawyer. Nobody wanted to be my lawyer for good reason, and he bravely decided to be my lawyer. He discovered a crime against his country, and he was shocked by the discovery, and he decided that he would try to do something about it. I urged him actually to leave, and he said “no, I’m going to stay and testify against those police officers who committed this crime.” After that he was arrested, tortured for 358 days in detention. I was aware of his torture and I tried to stop it anyway I could. There was no way to stop it, and he got killed. He got killed because of me. If it weren’t for me, if I hadn’t persuaded him to work for me he’d be alive. He was 37 years old. I have no choice. That’s my moral compass. I have no choice.
The day after he died, I took my gloves off and I said “We’re going to do anything we have to do to make sure that the people who did this face justice.” It is his death, his death is not a meaningless death. But his death becomes a rallying cry for everybody else who suffers from the same thing. It has been a long hard slog and it has taken a lot of time; we’ve fought a lot of immorality and amorality. There are still a lot of people who are against us. Step by step we are making progress. Coming right to your point, which is we don’t want the people who commit these crimes to be able to enjoy fruits of their crimes by travelling to the US and keeping their money in the west. I was very pleased when Dominic helped me with this endeavour here in Parliament, and I met John McCain and Benjamin Cardin, who are senators who helped me in the United States, who just came from the OSCE parliamentary assembly, where they had a vote nearly unanimous, with the exception of the Russians, calling on all OSCE states to impose visa sanctions and asset freezes. We now have a movement to not let the bad guys come here and spend their money here, and it scares the hell out of them, the bad guys. It’s the one thing they have no control over, it’s the one thing they covet, is coming here and spending their money here.
Dominic Raab MP
Can I just ask as a matter of natural justice, is there anyone who would like to take the other side of this debate, either from the Russian Embassy or otherwise, and defend what’s going on in relation to the Magnitsky case and the broader tax fraud? I just want to be as fair as possible.
I would not say so much as to defend, but there are many stories of corruption, many stories of organised crime, at the highest levels where… [inaudible]… or would that be to make sure that certain things are done … [inaudible]… exactly what is it we are trying to do? The Russians to me have a little bit of a loose cannon in terms of the government … [inaudible]…Will we have sanctions for weapons … [inaudible]… what is it that you think you will achieve by putting all of this in the Magnitsky files?
Very simply, this is a part of the campaign to make sure that governments don’t allow these people to travel to our country and freeze their assets.
If the corruption is so widespread, then what is to stop us from saying … [inaudible]…
I think that one of the reasons that was really… [inaudible]… about the first sort of eight or nine years of Putin’s regime was that we gave the impression that if we didn’t care about any of our values then they should get away with… [inaudible]… and we basically turned down the heat on all sorts of issues, and to some extent we said that’s what the Russians want. They voted for Mr. Putin, they like him so it’s none of our business. I think what Bill’s campaign does … [inaudible]… now we can’t do very much to change what is going on inside Russia, but what we can do is this visa ban. Even more importantly is this asset freezes. Because when you’ve stolen tens of billions of dollars, as this regime has, there is little you can do inside your own country, particularly as your regime may change … [inaudible]…
Hiding your money in the West is a very good choice, so that, in a way they were corrupting us and they were buying their way into London, Frankfurt, New York and other places. One of the most important things that Bill has done, which he didn’t mention very specifically, was getting the Swiss authorities to take interest in the accounts of Credit Suisse that needs to be… [inaudible]… I should stress that Credit Suisse is incorporated in this investigation … [inaudible]… and they should have wondered how one Moscow tax inspector wanted a Swiss bank account in the first place, or why should he have millions of dollars to put in it? … [inaudible]… It’s very good that the police and the Swiss authorities put heat on this to investigate it. There is a great deal more we can do we can do here in this country. It’s something they really really mind about. In both… [inaudible]…
Dominic Raab MP
Can I just add one point to that? The way I look at this is that the Magnitsky case is a very graphic and tragic illustration of a broader problem, in terms of engaging with rising powers. BRICs or otherwise, who want to engage and want to expand, who want to see Russia in the WTO. We also need to keep our head held high in moral terms. One of the interesting come backs that the Russian ambassador intervened when we had the debate by writing to the Speaker saying that it was incorrect. One of the arguments that we will hear on the other side is that the presumption of favour of asset freezes and travel bans is somehow US-style universal jurisdiction.
I actually feel rather differently— I think this is as much about us as it is about them, and it is about us saying “hold on here, if you commit these crimes we can’t necessarily invade your country, we can’t necessarily send you all to the International Criminal Court, but you certainly can’t walk down King’s Road as if nothing had happened. Certainly they don’t get to buy our property in London as if nothing had happened. As much to me about holding our moral head as high as we can in this country, it is about extraterritorially pursuing justice. It is probably about both, but what I am concerned about is Britain’s moral stand.
If I may play Devil’s advocate, is there a risk that by pursuing these actions against individuals, you actually hand in the regime a propaganda victory? Because as you said, one of their major arguments is, “Oh look America is just as bad as we are, oh Britain is just as bad as we are.” I don’t necessarily believe what I am about to say … [inaudible]… it is conceivable he has also been a beneficiary of certain Russian tax payer money…don’t we hand the regime an audience to …[inaudible]… to some extent and if we go down this route too far, the fact that we end up sort of end up confirming the Kremlin’s propaganda is.
Let me just say that they conducted a survey in Russia of what they think about the Magntisky Act and Magnitsky sanctions, and two thirds of the Russians who know about them support them, and about one third are against. It is a very strong vote of endorsement that 66 per cent of Russians support the idea of sanctioning corrupt officials because there is absolutely total impunity in Russia. As Ed was saying earlier, it is corrosive and everybody hates it, there is not a single person that’s not in the regime who is against us. Every single former government official, former opposition politicians or civil society person is on the record supporting the Magnitsky sanctions.
If there is one thing we get from… [inaudible]…every opposition leader not only supports the Magnitsky sanctions, but say please do it. They also say to us again and again, “Stop giving the regime the…[inaudible]… human rights watch…[inaudible]… the embattled heroic heir of Human Rights Watch in Russia and she came here few months ago and said that the one thing you can do, don’t think this is completed …[inaudible]… This is very rooted in the heart of the Russian opposition, and as Bill says, it is very widely shared in Russia. If we have a legitimate…[inaudible]… in Russia which has the rule of law, fair trials, and if they apply to extra …[inaudible]… I’m sure he’ll give the …[inaudible]. The reason he’s not going back is not because we think he is innocent, but because he didn’t get a fair trial.
Dominic Raab MP
Can I just add one broader point on the mechanism of what the parliament called for? First of all we are not actually calling for politicians to decide these questions first and foremost, but we would like a mechanism by which where there is evidence and where there is a source of gross human rights abuses like torture. That could be independently verified, but if it is it could automatically result in the asset freeze and visa ban. There would be a possibility of appeal, but it would apply as I think the American bill does, not just to Russia but to all countries. Actually, there is a precedent for a much more broader mechanism which I think we would avoid being…[inaudible]…certainly this is what parliament called for.
My view is this, we already as you said, the politicians who are involved, this whole charade of crime, is completed for several years, and then you’ve got the new regime which is still the same regime, and you say that you got the support, but you’ve got the support of the same regime that knows very much about the Kremlin. Why aren’t they taking any action? My second question, in terms of sanctions and asset freezes, we already have so many Russians already, who already have purchased so many businesses, and this will be a long shot in terms of Russia sanctions and freezing assets, where are you going to start?
…[Inaudible]… because this is the most important city in Europe for Russians outside of Moscow. 99.9% of Russians who come here we’ve got no quarrels with. It is Russians software engineering, Russian parents, Russian pop-stars, Russian… so they make their money honestly, and that’s great. They can take their children, go shopping all they want, but the fact is that because there is so many of them here, a small portion …[inaudible]… and they really mind that.
Just going back to what you said, the bad guys are terrified. They are quaking. I have never seen them so nervous. We got them. We finally found the point of leverage. I’ve been in the Foreign Office for years talking about this case, and they say “Wow, it is terrible, but there is nothing we can do.” This is wrong. There’s something exact that we can do. This is what we are going to do and it absolutely terrifies them. If there is one thing that the Russians respect, is when you have leverage. Otherwise, there is no conversation.
Dominic Raab MP
As we are talking about the view from within Russia, is there anyone here from Russia who would like to give their view on this? Don’t feel obliged, but if you would like the opportunity, it will only be fair.
I completely disagree with you. I lived in Russia in the 1990s. I think now this is not the time to debate this, but I would be happy to see you in the corridor afterwards.
Dominic Raab MP
My problem with it is, it is not a zero-sum game. You could easily offer factors like stability, but we shouldn’t allow these gross human rights abuses to go unchecked. Why is it one way or the other? That’s what I think is the beauty of the mechanism in the Magnitsky bill in the United States, and hopefully here in due course, would be precisely that. But we can stay engaged with Russia and welcome her to the WTO, but there is a line in the sand which we shouldn’t cross, in which it would be our responsibility to engage. Anyone else?
What about taking this to Cyprus, to places where they could go to from Moscow and letting them not allow visas?
It’s not something outside of our plans. I actually approached the parliamentarians from Monaco at the OSCE, I said “Why don’t you guys do this?” They were shuddering at the thought, but there is definitely ground still to cover, and to cover it all. By the time we are done, these guys won’t be able to travel anywhere.
Two questions: how much specific traction are the details of the case having the Russian opposition? How much have you revealed and how much is that playing internally? Second question, can we have an update on the UK campaign aspect of all of it?
This movie, along with three others, is on a channel on YouTube called Russian Untouchables. Those of you who have the time and the interest, just type in “Russian Untouchables” and on the channel there is now something like 2.4 million downloads, which is not so great if you are a pop-star but it is pretty damn good if you are a political campaigner. You just don’t get that kind of traction generally. I would say that 95 per cent of the downloads are in Russia on the Russian version. This movie had about 300,000 downloads in the first week it’s been on there. It’s been on just about every newspaper. It’s made a very big impression on the Russians. As time goes on, pretty much everybody who is featured in this movie, have become the symbol of everything that is wrong. Russian opposition does, this is one of the rallying cries of the Russian opposition. There is actually going to be a demonstration coming on Magnitsky on the Russian opposition, so it is a big part of the whole thing.
Dominic Raab MP
Second part of your question, I think there are three concrete things. I have sent all the evidence the American authorities had to the…[inaudible]…secretary. So we are waiting to see the response to that, asking her to assess it, in addition to the 16 named individuals in the Magnitsky case. Second step, a bit more modest, the one I mentioned is the Foreign Office annual human rights report, which is a modest tweak to policy, but suggested there is a presumption in favour of visa bans, when they have reliable evidence of human rights abuses by officials in authority or rather suspects. You will have noticed that in the Queen’s speech, there was no proposal for the Magnitsky bill, but it does have the House of Commons’ unanimous support. The Prime Minister made it clear that he takes very seriously the EU referendum vote, he takes very seriously the resolution at the House of Commons. What we have been thinking of and looking at is whether there is a way to try to force this on the agenda of private members bill through the commons or upstairs through the Lords. We are not there yet, but just to give you a sense of we take it forward.
One the problems in the British system. Visa applications are subject to judicial review here, they are not like the Americans. If the Americans don’t give you a visa, that’s tough, there is nothing you can do about it, where is here if you don’t get a visa you can start to sue, which puts the government in the position that it has to produce intelligence information or something else to explain its thinking. Is that actually the case for a Foreign Office lawyer?
Dominic Raab MP
Well I never dealt with that specific issue, but the fact is that …[inaudible]… they said that they already have the right to institute visa bans and asset freezes… [inaudible]… There is nothing particularly new about it, but in fact the workable mechanism, the point we’re making is that process should be semi-automatic. In the sense that if we have evidence of human rights abuses by the henchmen of debaters and despots, the presumption of favour of these sanctions that can be …[inaudible]… We are open for an exemption which allows the Secretary of State to stand up and make a public excuse of why won’t apply it in one way or another. But what we want is some transparency in the way it applies… [inaudible]… anymore than we already have with the existing panels.
I’d like to bring your attention to the fact that the Magnitsky case is not small. Because currently the foreign policy of such a big country like Russian Federation…[inaudible]…to be asked to defend people accused of this Magnitsky case. It’s not about the luxury of buying things, going to Dubai or Monaco, it’s also about the foreign policy of a huge and big country…[inaudible]…
We should point out here that this gentleman here is a true credible speaker on this subject who spent 11 years in a Russian prison on trumped-up charges, and was fortunately allowed out only recently. He has pointed out the crux of the whole matter, which is that if the regime was a legitimate regime, not a criminal regime, and devotes the entire foreign policy regime to protecting criminals. It comes down to that. That is the crux of the situation. I called the Russian regime is a criminal regime for a long time and people say that I am a crank. You are not a crank if the regime is protecting criminals with their foreign policy with the apparatus of their foreign service.
Considering how pandemic corruption is, do you see the situation getting better or worse?
I think it is getting better, because…[inaudible]…is decreasing. There was a time in the 1990s where there were no laws, and people thought…[inaudible]… but we know that tomorrow is going to be pretty much like yesterday and that is progress, and we know particularly in the middle class that there is an intolerance for corruption these days. They see the public services, the schools and that is bad for life generally in Russia. And the people who are the regime look out of touch with the times. The public is changing.
Michael Weiss, Research Director, The Henry Jackson Society
I just wanted to make one final point on the credibility of this bill or these sanctions against how the Russian government has responded with their own quid pro quo measures. They said, “Well we are going to do the same thing.” And the US said “Fine, well who would you put on the sanctions list?” The people who prosecuted Viktor Bout was their response. Viktor Bout is one of the most notorious arms dealers known to man. There is not a terrorist group or some African child soldier franchising that he has not sold weapons to. And he was indicted and then prosecuted, and he is now serving a federal sentence in the United States. So this is what the Russian government say is their version of Sergei Magnitsky, an arms dealer. This just proves the point that this is a criminal regime.
I just want to say a final word. The movie that you saw is available here for free. You can pick up your copy on your way out. I encourage you to do so.
Just a final point— this programme, like many others, was hosted by the newly-launched Henry Jackson Society Russia Studies Centre, so if you are interested in the subject, we invite you to go to our website, to follow us and our newsletters and other announcements like this.
Dominic Raab MP
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for coming.
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