Fakery of Marie Brenner’s Browder article in Vanity Fair

width=144By Lucy Komisar
Nov 30, 2018

This is an analysis of the worst William Browder acolyte article I have seen to date, by Marie Brenner, published by Vanity Fair,   November 11, 2018. It eschews evidence and simply writes what Browder says as a stenographer would do. The full text is here. Below are the most egregious excerpts with my comments marked **. They are extensive, as the piece is replete with fakery.

Marie Brenner

Brenner is a self-described journalist. Nothing in this story would corroborate that. Some writers do well at celebrity profiles. They should not attempt investigative journalism. This is a horror story of how that goes wrong. Her Vanity Fair piece is a fabrication without support or links to evidence. (This critique has a link to document everything I say.) Her story follows the line of U.S. mainstream media that regurgitates William Browder’s statements, so maybe not surprising, but in outrageous detail, it’s even worse. Follow along.

So, you know the story about William Browder, who was an investor in Russia from the mid 1990s and claimed that the Russian threw him out of the country (denied a re-entry visa) in 2005, which he said was because he was attacking corruption but was in fact because he was cheating on his taxes. To the tune, then, of about $40 million. You didn’t read this in the western mainstream press. He brilliantly turned his attempt to block collection of   the evaded taxes into an international crusade. You have read a lot about that.

But watch how she repeats Browder’s claims without providing evidence for any of them.

MB: Is there anyone, by now, who is unaware of Browder‘s relentless crusade? At 54, he circles the globe helping governments recover millions that Russian oligarchs have illegally parked overseas.

** UNTRUE.   He helps governments? What governments have recovered millions from which oligarchs? And how did Browder help?

William Browder

MB: He has dodged six warrants seeking his arrest. He takes precautions in his daily routine, wary of possible security threats. His weapons are judicial and legislative: sanctions blocking the assets and the international travel of Russian criminals, murderers, and corrupt industrialists who have plundered their companies.

**EVIDENCE? What criminals, murderers? Adjudged by what courts?

MB: And he is succeeding. “Now every country knows the names of these guys,” he contends.

**WHAT GUYS? Name them. (Hint: It’s the list Browder gave them.)

MB: Today, Browder, who wrote a best-selling 2015 memoir, Red Notice, is tireless in recounting the story of how he became Putin‘s Public Enemy No. 1. Browder‘s narrative is astounding. How Putin, in 2005, barred him from Russia.

**UNTRUE. He didn‘t get a visa renewal, because he refused to pay taxes. And Putin was hardly interested in a relatively low-level tax evader, who at that time was refusing to pay $40 million. In the scheme of Russian corporate corruption, small change.

Company Search

MB: How authorities raided the offices of Hermitage and its law firm, stole the company‘s corporate seals and stamps, and rigged a bogus $230 million tax-rebate fraud, which they tried to pin on Browder‘s 37-year-old tax adviser, Sergei Magnitsky.

*WHERE TO START! It was a normal search of a company that had filed fraudulent tax returns. The investigators didn‘t steal anything, they took evidence, which they signed for. There is no evidence that they rigged the tax-rebate fraud. Indeed, Viktor Markelov, who went to jail for being a key figure in the fraud, testified that he worked with a Sergei Leonidovich. Magnitsky was Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky. And Magnitsky said in testimony that he had made duplicate seals and stamps for required fillings.

Magnitsky testimony June 5, 2008: Even though the seals were impounded during the search in June 2007, the companies were required to carry on and report the accounting and tax statements to the Federal Tax Service and governmental statistical authorities, and in line with the regulations such statements should be sealed by the corporate seals.

As it seemed unlikely to retrieve the original seals impounded by the Chief Investigatory Directorate prior to the deadlines of reporting (and they were scheduled for July 2007 in respect of the statements for the second quarter of 2007), the representatives of the companies decided to produce seal replicas, following consultations with the legal advisors.

The order for the replicas was placed with a commercial firm specializing in the manufacture of seals and stamps. The seals were produced using print specimens of the original seals on various documents and copies supplied by the representatives of the companies.

After they had been produced, the seals for Machaon, Limited Liability Company, Parphenion, Limited Liability Company, and Realand, Limited Liability Company, were stored in the Firestone Duncan office.

See further down details of the Browder/Hermitage tax evasion in his sworn deposition before the U.S. Federal Court, Southern District of New York.

MB: How”after trying to press Browder‘s case against the officials who he believed were responsible”Magnitsky was hauled off to prison.

Journalist Oleg Lurie

*NOT TRUE. Magnitsky never spoke about the tax refund fraud till October 2009, after he’d been detained for nearly a year. See his testimonies in October 2006 (before the search) and June and October 2008. He was arrested November 2008. So where did he press a case against officials before his arrest? In fact, their names are in a Magnitsky statement to investigation Oct 13, 2009 which Oleg Lurie, a journalist who talked with him in prison, suggests was forced by his employers who had promised to get him out if he signed a statement that had nothing to do with his tax evasion charge. At any rate he made it 11 months after his arrest.

MB: And how, in 2009, he would die in a Moscow detention center, having been denied medical treatment and purportedly beaten to death.

**INDEED DENIED MEDICAL TREATMENT. Beaten to death purported by whom? Browder of course. No one else initiated that claim, which is backed by no evidence and is contradicted by the Public Oversight Commission, the Moscow NGO charged with investigating prison conditions (see report linked by Wall St Journal) and the Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, Mass, working with documents Browder himself provided. PHR Report here.

And note how Browder changed that story, year by year, when the first, Magnitsky died of natural causes, didn’t take hold. He would say Magnitsky was put in a straight jacket and left to die, then was tied up and beaten with rubber batons until dead.

Here’s the first: Browder tells Chatham House in London about the circumstances of Magnitsky‘s death, a month earlier, in December 2009: “I don‘t know what they were thinking. I don‘t know whether they killed him deliberately on the night of the 18th, or if he died of neglect.”

Then a year later, two: “They put him into a straight jacket, put him into an isolation room and waited outside the door for 118 minutes until he died.” University of San Diego Law School, October 2010.

Browder changes his story about Magnitsky’s death, graphic Michael Thau.

Still a year later, number three: “They put him isolation cell, tied him to bed, then allowed eight guards guards beat him with rubber batons for 118 min until he was dead”Š” University of Cambridge Business School, ŠDecember 2011. It’s the story he would tell, under oath, to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2017. And which the mainstream media would repeat, with no evidence.

Note the dates. Browder started his campaign for the Magnitsky Act in 2011 and continued it till 2012, when it was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama at the end of 2012. It aimed to punish Russians responsible for the death — Browder usually called it murder — of Sergei Magnitsky. So his first statements wouldn’t do. He had to invent a brutal killing. Ms. Brenner, don’t the changes in his stories make you suspicious and want to ask for evidence?

MB: “My life changed at that moment,” Browder has said frequently. “It became my mission to get revenge.” During one of the raids, a lawyer was pummeled and hospitalized.

** Ms. Brenner’s narrative here is confused. The raids (tax investigators’ searches) happened in 2007, and Magnitsky died in 2009. People giving interviews often move back and forth in time, but the reporter is supposed to get sequences right.

** Beyond that, Browder’s lawyer pummeled and hospitalized leads to an especially funny fabrication. This is the “hospitalized lawyer” who Browder’s powerpoint distributed to journalists in 2009 portrayed with a photo of Jim Zwerg, a 1961 US Freedom Rider beaten in Alabama!

Jim Zwerg as ‘Victor Poryugin’ in Browder’s fake powerpoint.
Jim Zwerg holding local newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama hospital.
Jim Zwerg’s bloody photo made the nation’s and world’s newspapers.

See the whole story, and Zwerg’s comment about Browder’s photo fakery, here. If you do not reply to anything else in this story, Marie Brenner, please reply to this. Can you or anybody believe that a person who posts this fake photo story is anything other than a conman?

Invented Perepilichnyy poisoning

MB: A Browder source named Alexander Perepilichny (sic) ”who had provided crucial financial documents to aid Browder‘s cause”later died mysteriously while jogging on the outskirts of London. Such are the perils of operating in Putin‘s world”and Browder‘s.

**Not so mysteriously. Browder told the press, which duly reported it, that Perepilichnyy died from toxic plant poisoning. That theory was rejected by expert testimony at the inquest. And the woman with whom he had an assignation at the Bristol Hotel in Paris just days before said he had gotten terrible food poisoning. See The Telegraph.

MB: The political fallout from Magnitsky‘s killing was profound. In seeking to avenge his colleague‘s death, Browder, from his redoubt in London, spent three years poring over legal documents and financial records.

**Whose financial records? You can‘t legally get other people‘s bank records unless you are law enforcement. Or maybe bribed someone. Unless they came from his very improbable claim in Red Notice, p158, he got secret financial records from a street kid selling CDs for $5! (Wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn?) There‘s no evidence anything came of those alleged “financial records.”


MB: He also lobbied U.S. legislators, human-rights organizations, and members of the Obama administration. The result: in 2012, Congress passed and Obama signed into law the Magnitsky Act. It denied visas to, and froze the holdings of, Russians who were judged responsible for, or financially benefited from, Magnitzky‘s demise”as well as others who committed gross violations of human rights.

**Judged by whom? By Browder, who supplied the list. Certainly, no tribunal with due process.

MB: Through it all, Browder has paid a steep price for his efforts. Whenever traveling outside the U.K. (he renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a Brit in 1998), he is wary of an Interpol warrant. Russian courts have twice tried him in absentia and both times sentenced him to nine years in prison. Putin‘s prosecutors have accused him of tax fraud and, preposterously, of murdering Magnitsky himself.

Browder’s Tax Evasion

**Have you read his April 2015 deposition where he admits to hiring disabled workers as tax analysts to get big tax write-off when the people listed were manual workers?

Prevezon lawyer Mark Cymrot: And the tax regimes in —  that were set up in Kalmykia required the hiring of basically Afghan war veterans who had disabilities, right?

Browder: There were — there were two tax incentives in Kalmykia. There were two tax incentives that we relied on or that Hermitage Fund relied on. The first was the Kalmykian   tax regime, which allowed the companies to pay lesser tax than in other regions, and the handicapped tax benefit which allowed a reduction in the federal tax rate… Handicapped tax regime required that more than 50 percent of the employees qualify under certain rules of definition of handicapped individuals.

Cymrot: So you represented on the Saturn tax returns that a majority of your Kalmykian employees were physically challenged persons?

Browder:   Yes.

He said the tax filing was done by Firestone Duncan, the accounting firm where Magnitsky worked.

Cymrot:   Who came up with the idea that you could use this tax regime?

Browder: we were advised by Arthur Andersen, Firestone Duncan, Ernst & Young and various other firms that this was a proper way of organizing our affairs.

The disabled employees were supposed to be stock analysts. However, Cymrot pointed out that a Russian court found the three employees listed in the return were working at other locations as physical laborers. That Bukayev has no education or qualifications. Badykov is a worker. Byatkiyev is a machine engineer. The court found that Browder’s company, Saturn, had not paid taxes due of $20 million.

Cymrot: So who signed the tax returns that   made those representations?

Browder: I did.

The murder seems unlikely, though maybe they are taking a page from Browder’s fake Perepilichnyy claims!

MB: All of these threats, paradoxically, have given Browder even more of an incentive to make the rounds, push his crusade. “The more I am out there,” he told me, “the safer I am.”

**Safer from the Russians collecting on his $70 million owed on tax and stock purchase frauds.

MB: And Browder, determined to ride it out, made a killing, thanks to his major stake in Gazprom, Russia‘s state-owned oil-and-gas colossus.

**Yes, he bought the Gazprom shares illegally on the Russian market through cutout companies, instead of as American Depository Receipts (ADRs) in London, where foreigners were supposed to get them. And where the shares cost a lot more. Russia says the scam cost them $30 million.

Browder’s invented anti-corruption

MB: By the early 2000s, he had decided on a brash move. He started a campaign to expose the endemic corruption at various Russian firms. He publicly charged an array of businessmen and officials, accusing them of looting their companies‘ assets. Soon, alarmed that the oligarchs might try to assassinate him, Browder enlisted a security detail and began traveling in a three-car motorcade.

The Browder story in Forbes

**This is disputed by westerners who said they were aimed at manipulating share prices. You can read that in an excellent article, Bad guys: why in the history of Sergei Magnitsky there are no good ones, in Russian, by Anton Verzhbitsky, Russia Forbes, Nov 16, 2016. He wrote that remembering about the past, partners and brokers note Browder’s greed: Brokers joked that after leaving Bill’s office, it’s worth checking to see if any of your pockets were missing, says one of the financiers who worked with him.

MB: In November 2005, after deplaning at Moscow‘s main airport, he was detained by immigration officers, held overnight, and deported. He had become yet another wealthy businessman who had suddenly fallen out of Putin‘s favor. As Browder recalled, he was literally and figuratively “the last person waiting for the baggage on the airline carousel.”

**Browder was a tax cheat, but hardly important enough to get Putin‘s attention.

MB: Quotes Browder: I am not C.I.A. I am not anything. I bet there are nine intelligence agencies listening as we speak. But that is because I am not an agent of anyone‘s”I am a completely independent operator. If I were really an agent of M.I.6, why would I be having so many problems opening a criminal case [in the U.K. against the oligarchs]? Maybe this is a double fake-out! The Russians are accusing me of being a C.I.A. agent!”

Brits now think Browder is a pain

**Criminal cases are opened by law enforcement, not private citizens. British law enforcement now considers Browder a pain.

MB: With the passage of new laws in England, some oligarchs have felt the squeeze. Last May, Parliament”after the poisoning, in Salisbury, of former Russia spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act. And yet the government appears ambivalent about investigating the $30 million in “illicit funds” that Browder contends have been laundered through British banks. “I have gone to every agency,” he said. “No one will take it on. It all stops with the higher-ups. It‘s either massive incompetence or collusion.”

**They think he is a pain.

MB: This fall, underlying tensions between Browder and the Brits came into stark relief when detective Jon Benton, the onetime head of the international-corruption unit looking into these suspicious dealings, made a surprising admission. He said he had received orders to stop his inquiry”from a more senior official with links to the Foreign Office. “I was approached and taken for a coffee,” Benton told The Sunday Telegraph, “and basically told Bill Browder is a pain in the neck and to leave it.”

** Indeed a pain. (Probably because he is constantly demanding they launch investigations based on claims without substance. The British authorities at the moment are hardly pro-Russian.)

MB: Browder was livid but not surprised: certain members of the government have reason to keep in with the Kremlin; some of the Russian business elite retain strong connections with England‘s power players. Earlier this year, according to The New York Times, billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate suspected of having connections to organized crime, retained the lobbying help of a British lord, Gregory Barker”an associate of David Cameron”hoping to sway U.S. officials to lighten or remove stiff sanctions on Deripaska and his businesses. “The U.S. won‘t respond to this kind of pressure,” Browder told me in November. “They‘d look like they‘re caving.” But back in England, Browder said, fuming, “We are still trying to get the U.K. to make a list of sanctioned individuals. They are stalling.”

**So, if somebody doesn‘t believe him, including top British political and law enforcement officials, they are in league with the Kremlin? Are you beginning to see paranoia here? Or just McCarthyite scurrilous dishonesty?

MB: Browder‘s office resembles a small trading floor, with analysts sitting in rows of desks, staring intently at computer monitors. Many spend their time rifling through complex chains of transactions in far-flung foreign bank accounts to determine which ones can be traced to corrupt culprits.

**How are they getting documents about transactions in foreign bank accounts which should be private unless they are obtained by government to government requests via MLATs (Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties.)? Or is it from CD’s sold for $5 by Moscow street kids?

Browder’s professed aid to investigations

MB: So far, Browder has sought to help two dozen nations recover their piece of the $230 million pie”the tax money paid to the Russian Treasury”that he alleges to have been stolen by Russian officials, moguls, and mobsters. A handful of countries, including Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands, have opened investigations.

*“Opened investigations” means he brings them a sheaf of papers and they provide a boilerplate response that they will look into it. I contacted Swiss authorities to inquire. Linda Martina Studer of the Attorney General‘s Office told me that as a result of Browder‘s complaint, proceedings were opened March 2011 “against persons unknown.” She said the Swiss passed its information to Russian authorities and asked several countries for mutual legal assistance “as the case involves complex investigations related to conflicts of political interest.” So far, nothing has come of any of this.

Howard Wilkinson

MB: In September, the head of Denmark‘s Danske Bank abruptly resigned after authorities, with an assist from Browder, opened a $234 billion money-laundering probe of its Estonian branch.

**Stephen Kohn, the US lawyer who represents Howard Wilkinson, the lone whistleblower in the Danske Bank money laundering scandal, told me he never heard of any Browder involvement. Another Browder self-promotion?

MB: Browder, like [Michael] Milken [the junk bond manipulator who went to prison], is a chronic self–promoter, who conveys a sense that he is always playing for an angle, molding his story. Both men can be patronizing and imperious. Both are financial wizards”and renegades. When I mentioned to Browder that I saw in him a kind of parallel to Milken”in his sense of mission and in the seemingly willful blinders he wears as he consumes himself with financial arcana”he snapped at me: “Not remotely. He was a crook.”

**No comment!

MB: In the first minutes we were together, I mentioned a name to Browder and, rather than answering me, he jumped to his feet and said, “I have a PowerPoint prepared on this very subject.” He disappeared and returned with glossy laminate boards that featured dazzling illustrations, cartoon thunderbolts, and captions with the whimsy of a Marvel comic.

Among reporters, Browder‘s PowerPoint presentations are considered works of such flair and originality that David E. Hoffman, the former Washington Post Moscow bureau chief and author of The Oligarchs, still keeps a box of them in his garage. These slide decks, which enable Browder to shape a narrative as a form of performance, are his preferred mode of communication. “That was always my secret,” he told me. “We did PowerPoints. If you can present your case clearly and visually, anyone can understand it. No one has an attention span.”

**Did he show you the beaten lawyer PowerPoint that uses a photo of 1961 US Freedom Rider Jim Zwerg? (See above) Did David Hoffman love it, too? Do you now believe all his PowerPoints?

MB: It is an arduous slog, indeed, to follow a chain of laundered accounts (Russia to Switzerland to Dubai, for example) linked to various players (a crime syndicate, a corrupt tax official, an oligarch), linked in turn to a $20 million mansion outside of Moscow.


**Any names or documents provided? Are big money mansions a clue to skulduggery? How about Browder’s $11million-mansion in Aspen? Browder‘s estate at 691 Pfister Drive, Aspen (Google satellite image), registered in the name of shell company Sundance Aspen run by Victoria Tarantino.

BM: But that is Browder‘s métier. And where is all that money that was swiped from the taxes Hermitage paid to the Russian government? “Some has disappeared,” he said. “Some we are still looking for. But so far we have confirmed $200 million spread across the globe.”

**Evidence? MB, don’t you ever ask for evidence?

Browder hides his own Panama Papers offshore firms

MB: Another PowerPoint deck bore the image of the cellist turned conductor Sergei Roldugin, head of the St. Petersburg House of Music. In 2015, when the Panama Papers were released (unearthing reams of leaked attorney-client documents that revealed various foreign shell companies), Roldugin‘s yearly income was reported to be about $10 million and he was linked to offshore companies with cash flows of up to $2 billion. This drew attention to his close friendship with Vladimir Putin and the fact that Roldugin is the godfather of Putin daughter Maria. One of Browder‘s investigators asked me, “How does a cellist get $2 billion in his bank account?”  “Reported?” “Linked?” Evidence?

**Did Browder tell you about his own Panama Papers accounts? Also set up by Mossack Fonseca?



MB: At the top of her class at Moscow State University”Russia‘s Harvard”Elena worked for an American P.R. firm representing the oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chairman of Yukos, one of Russia‘s larger oil companies. She met Browder in January 2000. At the time, the Russian ruble had crashed and the oligarchs had embarked upon what Browder recalled as “an orgy of stealing.” Yukos”even amid all the embezzlement going on”stood out as one of the country‘s most scandal-plagued companies. And Browder, trying to expose the widespread malfeasance (“I was the only person in Moscow crazy enough to speak publicly”), gave a presentation at the American Chamber of Commerce. Elena came to hear him.

**So, he admits Khodorkovsky was a crook. May be the first truthful thing in this article!

MB:  “We‘ve gone from being enemies to allies,” Browder said. The oligarchs, Browder later noted, would loll around on their yachts, look at their TVs, and see their former peer”“a man far richer and smarter” than they were, in Browder‘s estimation”sitting in a cage in a Russian courtroom. Browder and many others believe that, shortly thereafter, each oligarch made his way to the Kremlin to offer”or accept”a cut to government insiders. And as a result Putin became, by certain estimates, the world‘s wealthiest man.

**Whose estimates? Please be specific. Well, you know, it is Browder.

MB: Last July 16, Browder was in Colorado, where he owns a vacation home…Browder‘s eldest son, Joshua, was monitoring the Helsinki press conference from Palo Alto. … Putin, ….declared: “Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes. . . . We have a solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions, so we have an interest in questioning them.” … That bizarre morning, Browder finally answered his vibrating phone. “There were ladders of texts,” he remembered, “hundreds of tweets. I went on Twitter trying to assess what was happening.” Then, instinctively, he did what he always does at times like these: he booked himself on every TV show that checked in with him.

**And none of TV journalists questioned his fabrications or asked him for any evidence, did they? They never have!

MB: A week and a half after the summit, Browder was lying low. He would give the occasional speech, but for the most part he was “in hiding,” as a close aide described it, at his retreat in Colorado”city undisclosed.


**Stop being mysterious. Browder’s $11 million estate is listed in legal documents at 691 Pfister Drive, Aspen, above. In the name of his shell company run by Victoria Tarantino (see right), but he registers his car in his name at her address (see left). Why would he do that?

MB: He agreed to meet me on the terrace of the Aspen Institute.

**Deleted here sections about family not relevant to the current story.

MB: Is Putin, I asked, a 21st-century Stalin? “No,” he insisted. “I see him as a modern-day Pablo Escobar. Putin has no ideology whatsoever. Putin is pedestrian. All he wants is money and to hurt his enemies. He is straightforward. That is what makes him so vulnerable.”

**You could say that about Browder!

Browder’s enemies are kingpins and mysterious

Nataliya Veselnitskaya, photo by Lucy Komisar

MB: It is one of the strangest chapters in the Bill Browder saga”one that encapsulates the whole narrative. In 2013 federal prosecutors, prompted by research supplied by Browder, lodged a civil suit against a Russian corporation called Prevezon, registered in Cyprus but owned by a mysterious real-estate kingpin named Denis Katsyv”the son of a former Moscow-area transportation minister. Katsyv was advised by the ubiquitous Natalia Veselnitskaya. “They had 20 lawyers on their side,” Browder recalled, “but she was the lead warrior, the scowling alligator.”

**“Mysterious” and “kingpin” are loaded words. He‘s only mysterious to people who don‘t know him. How do you define kingpin? That would put him high in the world’s or at least the country’s real estate holdings. Really? Proof? He has a bunch of buildings? How does he compare to Blackstone, now dominating real estate in Spain? Is kingpin an attack word for somebody you don’t like?

**“Ubiquitous?” What makes Veselnitskaya ubiquitious? What does that mean? All over? Where? She represents more than one client? That you saw her name in two places? Any details? Is any lawyer with several clients ubiquitous? Is ubiquitous an attack word for somebody you don’t like?

MB: The Prevezon case, a byzantine legal thicket, is as knotty as Crime and Punishment. Several years ago, Browder met Bill Alpert, the redoubtable investigative reporter for Barron‘s, who specializes in money-laundering. Alpert would spend late hours feeding long spreadsheets of mysterious fund transfers into his database of New York‘s private and commercial properties. “I keep all kinds of data banks of possible smelly transactions,” Alpert told me. “I stare at my screen and try to figure out where the dirty money flows. These kinds of shell-company transactions are like the ones used to purchase many apartments in Trump properties.”

Curious role of Bill Alpert and OCCRP

**Where does Alpert get information about private bank fund transfers that are not available to anyone except law enforcement authorities? (Redoubtable is hardly an appropriate word. Alpert is a Browder acolyte. When I brought him the story about Browder’s Avisma corruption, which he indicated he wanted to see, he refused to run it because he told me Browder said it wasn’t true. 100Reporters ran it. See the story and decide how redoubtable Alpert is.)

MB: One day, Alpert happened to be on his computer, working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a network of investigative news outlets, to scour through leaked bank documents showing Russian money routed through Moldova. “Suddenly,” Alpert remembered, “up popped 20 Pine Street, in Manhattan‘s financial district. This one was like, ˜Bingo.‘ Not only was Prevezon named as the owner of [condos at] 20 Pine, but also the officers of the company.” He came to believe, and informed Browder, that the $4.7 million used to buy the units had come from the $230 million Hermitage swindle.

**Browder acknowledged in his deposition that Alpert and the OCCRP, which is based in Romania, worked with him and provided him information on the documents he would give the US Justice Department for the Prevezon case. Both have written puff pieces about Browder, repeating his Magnitsky story.

From Browder’s 2015 deposition to US Federal Court in the Prevezon case.

Cymrot: Unit 2009 was acquired by Prevezon on November 30, 2009 for 1,231,148. Do you see that?
Browder:   Yes.
Cymrot:   Where did you get that information?
Browder:   That information came from Bill Alpert at Barron’s magazine.
Cymrot:   Do you know where he got it?
Browder: No.
Cymrot: How did Bill Alpert become interested in Denis Katsyv?
Browder:   He’s a part of the OCCRP network.

**They are Browder acolytes. For example, neither ever wrote, in all their Browder stories, that he had set up his Hermitage Fund on Mossack Fonseca (Panama Papers) shell companies.

MB: In the fall of 2008, Browder had researched the most renowned legal experts on money laundering. One name came up repeatedly: a New York attorney who had had an impeccable reputation working for Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau. His name: John Moscow, a partner at BakerHostetler, whom I‘ve reported on in the past. “A money-laundering expert with a last name of Moscow,” Browder recounted, shaking his head. “I said, ˜Are you kidding me?‘‰” Moscow, Browder said, came up with a strategy to obtain financial documents to take to Manhattan prosecutors. Two months later, Magnitsky was arrested and thrown in prison.

The lawsuit

**Browder was investigating Renaissance Capital, which had done a 2006 tax-refund fraud, the same operation that was done in 2007 using several of Browder‘s companies, which he claimed had been stolen. That had nothing to do with Magnitsky‘s arrest, as appears suggested here.

MB: Not long after that, according to Browder, Moscow stopped returning his calls. (Moscow declined to comment to Vanity Fair.)

**This is deceptive, suggests a nefarious motive. Moscow told me his law firm does not allow him to discuss past or current clients, which is a common rule for law firms. So, he won‘t discuss why the work for Browder ended.

MB: Undeterred, Browder brought in new attorneys to represent him. And as the case moved toward trial, Browder received word that Moscow and BakerHostetler had been hired by Prevezon to defend the Russian firm against the government‘s legal action.

What followed were four years of claims and counterclaims, and blizzards of subpoenas. (Eventually, a federal appeals court ruled that Moscow and Baker-Hostetler would be disqualified from participating in the case due to “a conflict of interest.”)

**In fact, Browder was not a party to the Prevezon case, so legally there was no conflict. But the real fact is that through the decision of US Attorney Preet Bharara, the Justice Department was acting as Browder‘s attorney. The first DOJ legal complaint was based entirely on Browder documents.

MB: The New Yorker would report that over the course of the litigation Veselnitskaya‘s client Denis Katsyv would fork over some $40 million to argue what would have been, at best, a $14 million civil suit. A portion of that money went to BakerHostetler and the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS, headed by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson. Simpson, effectively on the payroll of Katsyv and Prevezon (through BakerHostetler), helped create a 600-plus-page dossier about, yes, Bill Browder.

**No surprise. Browder was the force behind the lawsuit.

MB: When word later emerged that Veselnitskaya and Simpson were both basically working for the same client, eyebrows were raised among Russia hands, journalists, and legal watchdogs.

**The client hired Russian and US lawyers, Simpson worked for the US lawyers. Lawyers hire researchers all the time. So what? This was never a secret. Nobody raised eyebrows about this very normal occurrence, except the Browder acolytes.

MB: This was the same Natalia Veselnitskaya who would meet in Trump Tower with representatives of the president-to-be‘s campaign.

**Obviously the same, since she went to talk to Trump Jr about Browder‘s tax evasion and Magnitsky hoax. What is surprising?

MB: This was the same Glenn Simpson who had hired former M.I.6 agent Christopher Steele to investigate Trump‘s alleged Russian connections (and, as it turned out, possible sexual adventures). Indeed, in an effort to bash Bill Browder, great sums were being lavished on legal teams on both sides of the Atlantic.

**Now Brenner is conflating two things. Simpson‘s investigation of Trump‘s Russia connections which has nothing to do with her declared “effort to bash Bill Browder.” I have not investigated the Trump story and have no comment. Her bash Browder was an attack on the attempt to get evidence on Browder‘s thievery. What’s wrong with that? How about, investigators are trying to bash Al Capone, or put in the name of your favorite criminal here.

MB: In 2016, Fusion GPS finalized its voluminous document, portions of which began to circulate in the press. Around this time, I asked an expert on Russian politics I knew for his opinion of Browder. “A total crook,” he told me. “Don‘t believe a word he writes in Red Notice. He stole the money from his company and had Magnitsky murdered.” Such allegations were absurd, but people spread the dirt.

**Hey, who did you talk to? That expert on Russian politics has the story straight. Allegations absurd? Give the details. What does he know about Browder having Magnitsky murdered? Can the Russians be onto something? You‘ve never listed the allegations or proved them wrong. Dirt=something Ms Brenner disagrees with.

A bit of McCarthyism

MB: An anti-Browder memo made its way to Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman”voted out in the midterms”who is sometimes called Putin‘s closest Washington ally.

**So anybody with a different view on Russia is Putin’s ally? Do you remember Joe McCarthy? Is Rohrabacher on your little list?

MB: It had reportedly come from Russia‘s deputy prosecutor, Viktor Grin, whose superior is close to Veselnitskaya. “That memo,” Browder told me, “had talking points that had been prepared by Glenn Simpson.” (Simpson declined to comment.)

**Show me evidence for any of this. What does close to mean? A lawyer talks to a prosecutor? Show us or even quote from the memo. Show us any evidence. And, by the way, was any of it false?

Juleanna Glover, former aide to Dick Cheney, then Browder lobbyist.

MB: At the same time, Browder‘s chief public-relations adviser, Juleanna Glover, said she began to get probing phone calls: “Reporters were asking me strange questions about Bill‘s businesses. It soon became clear that he was being smeared by a group of people who wanted to undo the Magnitsky Act.” Browder had become the target of an organized defamation campaign, stoked by Prevezon and extending to a coterie of lawyers, accountants, and others with Russian ties.

**What questions? That his company Hermitage evaded taxes? He actually admitted that in a sworn deposition in US Federal Court in the Prevezon case. Cited earlier. How come Browder didn‘t sue for that “defamation”?

MB: To counter the attack, Browder prepared yet another PowerPoint. But the man who had been so adept at getting press attention couldn‘t persuade journalists to write about his assertion that he was being framed. His story sounded far-fetched and self-obsessed.

**You got that part right!

MB: Some believed that Browder had had it coming. For years, he had played a double game with the Russians: lambasting the oligarchs yet profiting from the corrupt system. He had made his name as an American hedge-fund savant, then renounced his citizenship. He had enriched himself and his clients by skating on the gray ice of arcane tax shelters, property deals, and other vehicles used by the wealthy. And yet he had always managed to remain aboveboard, his reputation intact. “I had thousands of investors, and everything we do has to pass a strict legal review for the regulators,” he told me. Outside of Russia, “no one has ever brought a successful court action against me.”

**Did MB ask for details? Browder’s business was all in Russia, and a case against him in England was dismissed over jurisdiction.

The Prevezon Case

MB:…. story of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, at which Veselnitskaya had gone on at length about Browder and the sanctions. She had also come to New York then as part of her ongoing defense of Prevezon. And a year later the Justice Department quietly offered a deal that Prevezon‘s lawyers jumped at: the company agreed to pay a modest fine of $6 million, without admitting fault.

**Both sides “jumped.” What does that mean? Prevezon had spent a few tens of millions on the defense. The DOJ had very deep pockets. Judge William Pauley had refused its attempts to introduce multiple pieces of evidence. But at the end he allowed documents that could have been significant.

MB: “You could connect the dots from a bunch of banks in Russia to Moldova to New York,” Browder says. “That was the conclusion that the Justice Department came to. And their evidence was admitted into court and eventually they paid a fine rather than plea-bargain.”

** Judge William Pauley in the Prevezon case ruled that the DOJ could introduce as evidence in the trial the contents of a Russian criminal case dealing with the tax refund fraud, including copies of bank records and documents from Russian arbitration proceedings. They had been photographed by a Browder lawyer, Nikolai Gorokhov, who, in a Moscow courthouse for another case, entered a records room and photographed documents in the Hermitage tax-refund case. The case was not against Prevezon. I assume it was against Viktor Markelov, who ran the tax refund fraud that used the Hermitage companies. As the Prevezon case was settled before trial, the documents were never introduced, so we don‘t know if they link the funds to Prevezon, accused by DOJ of receiving $1.9 million of the $230 million.

MB: Browder remains a marked man. He knows that over the last four years at least 14 Putin detractors have died in suspicious ways in the U.K. alone. Nonetheless, his thirst for vengeance has not been slaked. In a final, follow-up meeting in New York City, we talked at his hotel, and he asserted that every major Russian money-launderer”and their many proxies in the West”was “on our radar.” He was heading to Washington later that day, in fact, to try to get additional culprits added to the Magnitsky list.

**High drama! Name the victims, please, since the 14 never made the papers. At least write a footnote. And don’t include Perepelichnny since that fake Browder accusation has already been dismissed. See above.

MB: “Basically,” he said, “we are going to make them pay dearly for what they have done. There need to be consequences for these enablers””meaning the oligarchs‘ circle of surrogates, lawyers, legislators, and P.R. people in America, Britain, and elsewhere. “I have more disdain for the enablers than for the villains. If you want to go work on the other side”and if the U.S. government is not going to do anything”we will.”
“Have you told all of this to Robert Mueller?” I asked him. Again, Browder hesitated. “I am not addressing that,” he said. It was the only time we were together that he refused to answer a question.

** So maybe he figured Mueller was too smart to buy into Browder’s fakery.

This is the worst Browder acolyte story I‘ve read till now. The author apparently never asked him for evidence, never talked to others who countered his claims — such as me or filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov, the major investigative journalists on the story — but simply wrote down everything her hero said. The Russophobic slant is everywhere. It‘s a horrific textbook case of journalist as stenographer sliding into propagandist.

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One Response to "Fakery of Marie Brenner’s Browder article in Vanity Fair"

  1. Lubin Bisson   Dec 7, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Wow. Great piece, Lucy.


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