[Over the weekend I did a column on the second most mind-blowing documentary I’d ever seen, House of Numbers: Anatomy of an Epidemic. Since our readers seemed to enjoy it, I decided to do a column on the one documentary that I found even more shocking, Andrei Nekrasov’s, The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes.
I not only couldn’t sleep for several nights after viewing Nekrasov’s incredibly powerful exposé. I wound up devoting almost half a year of my life to verifying his disturbing allegations, discovering additional confirmation of my own along the way.
Unlike Sunday’s documentary on AIDS, however, Andrei’s isn’t legally available for viewing free of charge. Instead, it can be viewed on a site he set up for the nominal fee of $5. Since I communicated with and got to know Andrei a bit in the course of my own investigation, I don’t want to link to any pirated copies. He not only put in a lot of hard work. Andrei also took considerable risk and wound up suffering a lot for daring to try and expose the truth about Sergei Magnitsky.
So, instead, I’m going to present his shocking findings along with what I uncovered with the help of a Russian physics professor who was gracious enough to translate some crucial documents for me (one of which, we wound up proving is a forgery). So, without further ado…]
In 2012, Congress ignored the adage, Hard cases make bad law and passed one specifically designed to punish certain individuals they believed responsible for torturing and killing a man named Sergei Magnitsky. Their feeling that Magnitsky had suffered a grave injustice must have been very strong, indeed, since the dead man had never so much as set foot on American soil; he was a Russian citizen who died in the custody of their police.
The world is, of course, a brutal place, and countless people suffer gruesome fates at the hands of repressive regimes every day without ever coming to the attention of the United States Congress.
Two things, however, made Magnitsky’s case special.
First, the legislators who backed the bill bearing his name had a particularly strong antipathy toward Russia. But that wouldn’t have been enough to engage John McCain, Marco Rubio, Democrat Ben Cardin (MD), and the rest of the Magnitsky Act’s enthusiastic sponsors if it hadn’t also been the brainchild of an extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and hypnotically charismatic, former American citizen by the name of Bill Browder.
At the time of his arrest, Magnitsky worked for Browder, who, though born and bred in the USA, made his fortune in Russia after the fall of the USSR.
The hedge fund Browder founded in Moscow, Hermitage Capital, became the largest foreign portfolio investor in the country, acquiring $4 billion in assets. And, Browder had made it his life’s mission to broadcast his story of Magnitsky’s brutal torture and murder to the world and heap as much opprobrium and punishment on Vladimir Putin and the Russian cops who were its main villains as the world could be brought to muster.
Bizarrely enough, Browder’s paternal grandfather actually ran the United States Communist Party for over a decade during Stalin’s mass-murderous regime. He not only appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1938, identified by the caption, Comrade Earl Browder; two years earlier Bill’s paternal granddad headed the Communist Party’s ticket as its candidate for president of the United States!
So, it was more than a little ironic that grandson Bill wound up building the beginnings a massive fortune buying and selling the vouchers Russian citizens were issued to finally give them the stake in state-controlled industries that communism, alas, had only ever delivered in theory. As Browder explains in his 2015 book, Red Notice.
The Russian people had no idea what to do with the vouchers when they received them for free from the state and, in most cases, were happy to trade them for a $7 bottle of vodka or a few slabs of pork.
But, if the Russian people didn’t know that shares in their vast energy industries and precious mineral reserves were worth a lot more than a few slabs of pork, sadly for them, there were plenty of people like Bill Browder who did.
And, even apart from grandfather Earl leading CPUSA and even meeting and marrying Browder’s Russian grandmother on a five-year visit to his communist bosses, there was something a little strange about a man who’d built a fortune based on taking advantage of ordinary folk just emerging from 75 benighted years of communist oppression suddenly becoming a renowned crusader for human rights.
Just as there was always something a little disturbing about the United States Congress paying so much deference to one who’d renounced his US citizenship merely to avoid giving up a little of that fortune in taxes to the country they claimed to serve.
For you might have thought that—even apart from any disquiet Bill Browder’s small regard for his American roots would have stirred in the patriotic hearts that John McCain and the rest of his congressional boosters always displayed so prominently on their sleeves—the strong aversion to paying taxes Bill Browder revealed by ditching America for the UK because the latter demanded less of his Russian wealth for the privilege of citizenship would have given Congress pause in light of the particulars of Magnitsky’s case.
For, you see, Sergei Magnitsky had landed in jail because some companies owned by Browder’s hedge fund, Hermitage Capital were used to perpetrate the largest tax fraud in Russian history and, if not the world’s largest as well, probably its most daring.
The companies were first transferred to figurehead owners, after which the perpetrators instigated phony lawsuits against them which the new owners made no effort to defend against. As a result, Russian courts passed judgments against the companies for extraordinary sums of money, wiping out, at least on paper, every cent of the billion dollars in profits they’d made in the previous year.
This allowed the new owners to retroactively file for a tax refund, which, of course, they promptly did. And, before the Russian treasury could discover that the lawsuits had been initiated and defended in bad faith and that no money would ever change hands, the $230 million the transferred companies had paid in taxes the previous year hadn’t just been refunded. Every single penny had disappeared in a maze of foreign shell companies and dummy owners made possible because Browder had originally incorporated them outside of Russia in localities highly favorable to corporate anonymity.
The Russians claimed that Browder had masterminded the scheme with Magnitsky’s aid and that the latter died of natural causes in prison after being arrested following an investigation by a couple of Russian cops named, Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov. Whereas according to the story Browder made it his life’s mission to tell the world, it was Sergei Magnitsky who’d discovered that Kuznetsov and Karpov had stolen the $230 million and reported them to the Russian authorities; after which, the officers arrested and tortured Magnitsky to force him to recant his accusations, confess to the crime himself, and falsely implicate his boss as well.
Sadly, Russia recognizes a prisoner’s right to a speedy trial in neither theory nor practice. And, if Browder rather than the Russian authorities is to be believed, Magnitsky spent his eleven months behind bars heroically refusing to cooperate regardless of how much degradation, misery, and suffering the two officers inflicted; until they finally gave up trying to break his Herculean spirit and put an end to his accusations by the simple expedient of murder.
The two stories about Magnitsky even disagree about his line of work! The Russians said he was an accountant who’d used his specialty knowledge of tax law to help Browder conceive and implement, not just the $230 million fraud, but other earlier enormous scams as well. Browder, on the other hand, claimed Magnitsky was the smartest lawyer he’d ever met, whom he’d hired to investigate how and why ownership of his companies had been transferred without his knowledge.
Because Browder got the world to accept his version of events, Interpol refused to honor the international warrant Russia issued for his arrest – the so-called, Red Notice, which Browder used for the title of his 2015 book. And it just so happened that among the people banned from entering the United States by the law he worked so hard to pass in martyred Sergei Magnitsky’s name were Kuznetsov, Karpov, and anyone else who might be able to testify that it was Browder rather than the two Russian police officers who’d fabricated a story in which the roles of criminals and those exposing them were reversed in a daring effort to shift the blame for stealing a quarter of a billion dollars from the Russian treasury.
But the legislative bodies of the world’s richest and most powerful nation showed no sign of being concerned about whether there might be any truth to the Russian side of the story.
No one even thought to ask why Putin would expend resources and invite the world’s wrath by covering for a couple of low-level officials who’d stolen a quarter of a billion dollars from him and stupidly tried to frame a powerful and enormously wealthy westerner for the crime. Or how Magnitsky’s lone accusations could have even been a threat if the miscreant Russian cops had as much power and official backing as Browder’s story implied.
So, Bill Browder was treated as a selfless and persecuted near martyr, his story never questioned in the slightest, and the Magnitsky act passed 365 – 43 in the House, 92 – 4 in the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama on December 14, 2012.
The repercussions were both immediate and grave.
The Russians—claiming that Browder had shifted the blame in order to avoid his just deserts for cheating them out of a quarter of a billion dollars owed on a fortune he’d built carpetbagging into their country and taking advantage of their citizens—were, depending on who was telling the truth, either infuriated or merely pretending to be. And, within two weeks, they started passing a series of retaliatory measures, the most widely publicized of which barred US citizens from adopting Russian children.
But, if you want to get a sense of how much Bill Browder’s story has poisoned US-Russian relations, it suffices to recall that, at a joint press conference with Trump when they met in Helsinki in 2018, Vladimir Putin himself mentioned Browder by name, offering to let American investigators question the twelve Russians Robert Mueller accused of hacking Clinton campaign emails if the US, in return, would only agree to help make sure Bill Browder was turned over to Russia.
Browder has also used his extraordinary ability to court the mainstream media to spread the idiotic and poisonous idea that President Trump is a Russian mole, one notable case being a January 2019 appearance on The View. Like all Browder’s other television appearances as well as every fawning article written about him in the mainstream press, his version of the events surrounding Magnitsky’s death was uncritically accepted and, indeed, used to give his absurd and dangerous pronouncements on Trump credibility.
But it wasn’t just the US congress and corporate media who swallowed and regurgitated Bill Browder’s story. Browder traveled the globe telling his tale of Magnitsky’s martyrdom at the hands of Putin’s lawless and brutal regime, successfully lobbying the UK, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia to all pass their own version of the Magnitsky Act.
Browder also became the unlikely darling of the left-wing human-rights establishment. Thanks in no small part to his natural talent as a raconteur, Magnitsky’s death took on an almost religious aspect to them. He was a near-supernatural figure who’d spent eleven months enduring the greatest torment two sadists could inflict without knuckling under until they were finally forced to murder him.
And, Magnitsky had endured not for his family or his country or the God of any religion, but for ideas like democracy and the rule of law that the human rights activists themselves worshiped. Magnitsky had died for what they conceived of as the world’s sins and, in doing so, had demonstrated that the ideas they deified could be as powerful motivators in the soul of man as the God of any old school religion.
So, thanks to Bill Browder’s tireless and consummate efforts in promoting his version of Magnitsky’s story – or perhaps we should say versions since it turns out he’s told more than just one – all was forgotten, and the man whose massive fortune was built on taking advantage of the ignorance of impoverished common folk was adored and feted by avowed socialists for his midlife conversion to the cause of human rights and relentless dedication to making sure the whole world knew the awful unjust fate of Sergei Magnitsky.
Then, however, one of those human rights activists, a documentary filmmaker named Andrei Nekrasov, found himself so moved by Browder’s tale that he decided to tell it on film. But the film Nekrasov wound up making turned out very differently than the one he’d envisioned. And, the world began to hear a very different story of how and why Sergei Magnitsky had died in that Russian prison and who was really to blame.
Be sure to check out Part 2 and discover the preposterous lies that poisoned U.S.-Russian relations because our well-paid senators and congressmen were too corrupt or incompetent to do a few hours of research: