Bloomberg News

Browder Targets France After U.K ‘Russian Visa Ban’

October 03, 2011

(Corrects timing of Cameron visit in seventh paragraph.)

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Hermitage Capital Management Ltd. founder William Browder is lobbying Germany and France after the U.K. reportedly followed a U.S. ban on Russian officials over the death of anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.

Browder, whose London-based fund was once the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, said he believes the U.K. has barred 60 Russian officials linked to Magnitsky’s death in a Moscow prison in 2009.

The British weekly, The Observer, reported yesterday that the U.K. had secretly imposed the visa ban, citing former Europe Minister Christopher Bryant as saying he was informed of the measure by Immigration Minister Damian Green. The Home Office declined to comment on individual cases, adding in an e-mailed statement: “We can refuse a visa when the individual’s character, conduct or associations makes entry to the U.K. undesirable.”

Browder accuses the Russian authorities of a whitewash over Magnitsky’s death, and has been pressing Western governments to sanction officials who played a role in it. President Barack Obama’s administration in July implemented a visa ban on a number of Russian officials after U.S. senators proposed legislation to punish Russian human rights abusers.

Browder is now seeking to persuade 10 governments in the European Union, including Germany, France, Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, to follow suit. “I am confident that these 10 countries will do what’s required in the end,” he today said in a phone interview from The Hague, where he was meeting with government officials.

‘Frightening Punishment’

Visa bans are the best way to put pressure on officials guilty of human rights abuses, said former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the opposition Parnas party. “It’s a frightening punishment for corrupt bureaucrats who send their children to study abroad and have property and bank accounts there,” he said by phone in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Boldyrev said the authorities were seeking clarification from the U.K. Russia, which threatened to retaliate against the U.S. visa ban, has had strained ties with the U.K. since the 2006 murder of dissident ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron made the first visit to Russia by a British leader in five years last month.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s human rights council in July said Magnitsky, a lawyer for Hermitage who was 37 when he died of heart failure, was probably beaten to death in prison.

Magnitsky, who suffered from gallstone disease, was transferred from one Moscow prison to another that lacked the facilities to conduct the medical tests he required, according to the council. The lawyer said he was abused and denied medical care to force him to drop allegations of a $230 million tax fraud by Interior Ministry officials.

--Editors: Alan Crosby, Andrew Atkinson, Andrew Langley, Heather Langan

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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