Former businessman and human rights activist Bill Browder believes that lawyers, tax advisers and accountants who helped Russian oligarchs should be forced to share their knowledge with Dutch authorities. “The Dutch government can do much more than what is happening now. Your Prime Minister Rutte has prioritized trade relations with Russia for far too long,” the Briton told NU.nl.
Who is Bill Browser?
- Browder is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics.
- In 1996 he founded Hermitage Capital Management, the largest foreign investment fund in Russia of all time.
- After Browder criticized corruption in Russia in 2006, the Russian government blacklisted the Briton.
- Browder accuses Putin of pocketing money on a large scale.
- For 12 years, he has been calling for strict sanctions against those guilty of corrupt practices.
- These sanctions laws bear the name of Sergei Magnitsky, his former employee, who was on the trail of a major corruption scandal.
- On November 16, 2009, Magnitsky was murdered in a Russian cell after severe torture.
- Then-US President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, a US law full of measures against high-ranking Russians involved in corruption.
Bill Browder is incredibly enthusiastic about the reluctant attitude of the Dutch government and Prime Minister Mark Rutte in particular regarding the sanctions against the clique around Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The Russians blew a plane out of the sky with 189 Dutch on board. It was your 9/11 moment,” he says. “And what did Rutte do? He prevented the introduction of sanctions, gas interests were more important. He did not go to Brussels to promote such a law.”
He is also unimpressed by former Minister Stef Blok’s report on sanction options that appeared on Friday. “Now 600 million euros have been seized. I can tell you that there is a lot more Russian money in the Netherlands.”
Browder focuses on Amsterdam Zuidas lawyers, tax experts and accountants who have aided Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin for years.
“The Dutch government must force these experts to make available all their knowledge, to say where the money is hidden. And if they do not cooperate, they must be punished. Blok is now picking the fruits within reach. hand, he has to dig deeper.”
Browder is in the Netherlands for his new book Hunted down by the state mafia which came out last week and immediately topped the non-fiction bestseller list. “This book reads like a John le Carré thriller,” said a reviewer of NRC Handelsblad this week.
Browder wants to put employee killers behind bars
Browder’s life changed completely after the murder of his associate Sergei Magnitsky on November 16, 2009. “Sergei was a heroic figure,” says Browder. “He was on the trail of a major fraud case. He was arrested, spent 11 months in prison and did not give in even though he was tortured.”
Browder was racked with guilt. “Magnitsky worked for me. If he hadn’t done that, he would still be alive,” he said in a conversation in Amsterdam.
When Magnitsky dies after being tortured in a Russian cell in November 2009, Browder solemnly promises himself and Magnitsky’s wife and son to put the perpetrators behind bars.
Browder, until then a successful businessman and owner of Hermitage Capital Investment, quits his company and becomes what he calls a full-time human rights activist. For the past ten years, he has warned the West against Putin, who he says is only looking to secure his stolen billions.
Browder paid a heavy price for his struggle
Thanks to Browder’s fierce struggle, countries like Canada and the United States enacted the so-called Magnitsky Act. Under these laws, sanctions can be imposed on people who commit human rights abuses or corrupt practices.
Previously, sanctions could only be imposed on entire countries. The Magnitsky laws made it possible to personally target the perpetrators without an entire population suffering the punitive measures.
The former businessman paid a high price for his fight against the Kremlin. Magnitsky was murdered, as was Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, with whom Browder worked closely. Browder himself was also threatened. Moreover, at the request of Russia, he was wanted by Interpol and even arrested in Spain, as he describes in his book.
“It’s more dangerous for me than ever”
“Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s more dangerous than ever for me,” he says. “Any inhibitions the Russian secret service may have previously had are now gone. The only advantage is that the assassins working for Putin are now so busy killing opponents that they can be overworked.”
In the Netherlands, Browder worked closely with MPs Pieter Omtzigt and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma. “They were really committed from the start to implementing the Magnitsky Act in Europe.”
Browder, on the other hand, strongly criticizes Prime Minister Rutte, who opposed the introduction of such a law in the Chamber. “I find it incredible that Rutte did this. And why? Because he was afraid of damaging trade relations with Russia. Incredible, it was after the destruction of MH17.”
According to Browder, Rutte should have intervened and promoted the Magnitsky Act in Europe. “He was welcomed with open arms, especially by the Dutch prime minister, but he didn’t.” EU legislation was finally passed in December 2020, partly thanks to the efforts of Omtzigt, Sjoerdsma and others.
European law passed, but not named after Magnitsky
During this period, Browder also spoke with then-foreign minister Stef Blok, who was to champion the introduction of the law on behalf of the Netherlands. Blok was called upon to do so in a motion passed by the House. Browder: “Blok told me to moderate my tone, otherwise countries like Hungary wouldn’t come on board. But what was all this nonsense? Am I moderate my tone? I don’t Do not think.”
The European law was finally passed, but it does not bear the name of Magnitsky, because Hungary renounced it. Moreover, under the law, only the perpetrators of human rights abuses can be punished and not those guilty of corruption.
“I find it unheard of that the EU and the Blok have turned to Hungary,” Browder said. “Now is the time to change the law. After the invasion of Ukraine, everyone will see what Russia and Putin are capable of. Hopefully we can now anchor the law for the next 50 years.”
And then there’s something else Browder hopes the Netherlands will take action on quickly: putting Magnitsky’s killers on the sanctions list. “How is it possible that your government hasn’t already done this?” Is he still afraid of offending Putin?