By Lucy Komisar
May 4, 2019
When journalists, pundits and analysts promote the Browder hoax, one usually has no chance to confront them with facts. They ignore emails. But April 15th, I had the opportunity to ask one. The speaker was Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations. It was an event to promote his report, “Trump‘s Foreign Policies Are Better Than They Seem.”
First, Richard Haass, the Council president cut me off when he realized what I was saying. The speaker after me got twice as much time and wasn‘t interrupted.
HAASS: Lucy Komisar.
Q: Lucy Komisar. I am a journalist.
You made a brief reference to Russia, and one of the issues I find difficult in dealing with U.S. policy is the problem of facts. It‘s they‘re not very clear, and sometimes they‘re wrong. In your”last year‘s report, Containing Russia, you wrote that in 2012 the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act”you refer to that in this report as well”a set of tough sanctions on eighteen Russian officials involved in the torture and death in prison of Russian human rights whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
HAASS: Lucy, a question? We got five minutes left. I need a question.
Q: Well, I want to say what he said.
HAASS: No, no. I need a question. We got”I need”
Q: OK. The question is that the statement that you made is counterfactual. He was not tortured to death in prison. The report on the Wall Street Journal says that.
HAASS: What is your”what is your question, Lucy?
Q: My question is, did you check out the claims of torture and whistleblowing before you wrote that line?
Q: Because all of the evidence that I have show that they‘re not true. Did you check out the evidence?
There was some jeering from the audience.
BLACKWILL: Well, I am flattered”(laughter)”that someone has read that report. And, yes, Phil Gordon and I, who wrote it, did our best to reflect what the commentary was on what happened to that poor man once he was incarcerated. Of course, one has to rely on indirect sources because the government of Russia lies. So, you can‘t believe what they say, and one just tries to put together whatever information one can. So did our best, and thanks again for reading it. (my emphasis)
Q: Can I say”
And that was it. The meeting text is here.
Blackwill is a prominent foreign policy figure. A senior fellow at the Council and a lobbyist. He was ambassador to India under George W. Bush 2001-2003 and liaison between Paul Bremer and Condoleezza Rice as a National Security Council Deputy for Iraq 2003-2004. He taught at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard, which should have rigorous standards.
I thought, is that how you do research? You read the commentary, the pundits!
Only indirect sources? How about non-Russian government direct sources? Such as depositions in US federal court? Browder‘s for example. Or the report of the Physicians for Human Rights, based in Cambridge, Mass., which found Magnitsky died of illness exacerbated by bad medical care?
He could check out the New York Times report of the tax refund fraud published three months before Magnitsky mentioned it in testimony. Who is the whistleblower? Actually Rimma Starova, the figurehead for the BVI company that took over the Browder shells used in the fraud. But she‘s a Russian.
Those were my thoughts. (Does the US government lie? Remember weapons of mass destruction -WMD- in Iraq? But I digress.)
I sent Mr. Blackwill an email the same day and waited for a response. There wasn‘t any, so I think it appropriate to print the email here:
Dear Prof Blackwill
In your Jan 2018 report Containing Russia you write that in 2012 “the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act”a set of tough sanctions on eighteen Russian officials involved in the torture and death in prison of Russian human rights whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky.” He was the Russian accountant working for British hedge fund operator William Browder.
But the Wall St Journal links to the definitive prison report that says Magnitsky died of disease made worse by terrible medical care, nothing about torture. When Browder spoke early on at Chatham House in London and elsewhere after Magnitsky‘s death, he talked of him being left alone in his cell until he died. He shifted to a beating to death later, when he was promoting the Magnitsky Act.
The alleged whistle-blowing was about the theft of budget funds from the Russian Treasury. But that scam was reported by the NYTimes and Vedomosti in July 2008, and Magnitsky didn‘t mention it to authorities till 3 months later in October at an interrogation to which he was summoned as a suspect in Browder‘s tax evasion case, not in a whistleblower visit. At any event, 3 months after press publication.
Did you check out the claims of torture and whistle-blowing before you wrote that line? If so, what credible evidence did you find to support those claims?
But I never got a chance to ask that.
Here are links to the documents I refer to about Magnitsky’s death:
(Note to readers: the first 6 lines of first paragraph on page 3, Magnitsky accusing police officers of involvement in the tax refund fraud, is a Browder forgery, not in the Russian version, not in the English translation notarized and filed on Pacer in the Prevezon case. )
Browder tells Chatham House, London about the circumstances of Magnitsky‘s death, 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 16th, or if he died of neglect.”
In May 2010 testimony at the Congressional Human Rights Commission, chaired by Rep James McGovern (D-MA), he says that after the 2007 office search he had hired “a young man named Sergei Magnitsky, a 36-year-old lawyer,” to investigate. That of course was a lie since Magnitsky had been doing Hermitage accounting for ten years.
The rest was a fantasy of how Magnitsky discovered corrupt officials behind the scam. And was arrested because of it. He said that Magnitsky died after being put in an isolation cell for 1 hour and 18 minutes. He said doctors stood outside and waited for him to die.
“They him in a straight-jacket put him in an isolation room and waited 1 hour and 18 minutes until he died”Š”Š6 Dec 2010. San Diego Law School
When he and Jonathan Winer agreed to the strategy of the Magnitsky Act, Browder’s story changed: “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”Š13 Dec 2011. University of Cambridge Judge Business School
By the time he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2017, he declared: “…. they put him in an isolation cell, chained him to a bed, and eight riot guards came in and beat him with rubber batons.” Video. Rep McGovern, House sponsor of the Magnitsky Act, either didn‘t see this testimony or forgot Browder‘s earlier testimony. Or didn‘t think it mattered.
Magnitsky as whistleblower
The claim that Magnitsky blew the whistle on this fraud is fake. His only testimonies before his arrest were in October 2006 and June and October 2008. The first was before the tax refund fraud, the latter two were after it had already been reported. He made no other statements to the public or to authorities.
The first indication of the $230mil tax refund fraud was by Rimma Starova, a “nominee” listed director of one of the implicated shell companies. When she read in the papers authorities were investigating, in April 2008, she was concerned she might be implicated and went to police to give testimony to put herself in the clear. Translation. She said that there had been a fabrication of falsified certificates of debt in the amount of 13.5 million rubles. That would be equivalent to the companies‘ profits. She would make another statement in July that the companies seemed to have stolen 5.4 billion rubles from the state. That would be the $230 million they had paid in taxes.
Who could have re-registered the Hermitage companies? Only the people who did the June 2007 search? Magnitsky said in testimony June 2008 that documents were not needed to re-register the companies. After they were removed, the company was able to get them copied to use for new tax filings. Magnitsky testimony June 6, 2008: “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.” But no accusations of who did the scam.
Paul Wrench, working for Browder, filed a complaint about the fraud in July 2008. Browder gave the story to the New York Times and Vedomosti at that time. Wrench is a professional figurehead director fronting many different off-shore firms including those which were controlled by Bill Browder. He signed the complaint to Russian authorities claiming 230 million dollars was stolen with the help of police.
Wrench was asked in a sworn deposition in US federal court in the Prevezon case November 2015, who he had discussed the complaint with.
Q. Did you discuss this document with anyone at the time you signed it?
A. At the time I signed it? I would have discussed this document before signing it.
Q. With whom?
A. With Ivan Cherkasov. [Browder‘s partner.]
Q. Anyone else that you recall?
A. Not that I recall.
Browder insists that Magnitsky was arrested for “blowing the whistle” on the fraud, but nothing happened to either Starova or the Russian journalist who wrote the Vedomosti story. Nor to the reporter at the Moscow radio station who interviewed Browder a few days later on the subject.
Browder and his team anointed Magnitsky as a whistleblower after he died. In a video they created, uploaded on Oct 8 2009 (a month before Magnitsky’s death), on Youtube channel žHermitage TV”: “Hermitage Reveals Russian Police Fraud. Magnitsky had been in Russian jail for over 10 months, tortured for his whistleblowing every single day, according to Browder’s current line. But then his hero was largely ignored, Browder mentions Magnitsky briefly, calling him a consultant, but nothing about his investigation, accusation of police, police trying to force him to withdraw accusations and the other claims Browder invented.
Six years after Magnitsky‘s death, with Browder shouting to the world he was a whistleblower, Wrench under oath and avoiding perjury does not back Browder up.
Browder would later say Magnitsky was arrested for fingering Russian police, but that is a lie. If you look at Magnitsky‘s only testimonies, Oct 2006, June and Oct 2008, before his Nov 2008 arrest, there is no mention of police officers being connected to a fraud. Magnitsky was replying to questions put by investigators, not coming forward to reveal a crime.
Magnitsky does not even mention the fraud until October 7, 2008, at an interrogation to which he was summoned as a suspect in Browder‘s tax evasion – for which he was arrested the following month ” when he tells of “a fraud of budget monetary assets in the amount exceeding 5 (five) billion rubles.” But he makes no accusations.
That is six months after Starova‘s first April 2008 testimony. Second testimony July 10, 2018. Three months after publication in Moscow‘s Vedomosti and The New York Times July 2008.
But the Russians‘ investigation into Browder‘s tax corruption was continuing – Browder‘s associates had departed to London – and Magnitsky was detained in Nov 2008 when it appeared he might not remain for the investigation. The US, France and other countries also detain witnesses for interrogation when it appears they might flee.
In prison, Magnitsky turned to a fellow inmate, Oleg Lurie, for help in filing complaints about conditions. Lurie is a well-known Russian journalist who had been accused of attempting to blackmail a member of the Duma; he was later exonerated. Inmates often sought out Lurie for jailhouse advice. Deposed in the Prevezon case, Lurie described Magnitsky as initially “confident” that his employers were working to get him out.
But in a subsequent meeting, Lurie said, Magnitsky‘s demeanor had changed. He was distraught, Lurie recalled, and said his employers were now selling him out and wanted him to sign testimony that had nothing to do with his charges.
In Oct 2009, Magnitsky made a declaration accusing police of “possible participation” in the theft of the Hermitage companies. Lurie suggests it was forced by his “employers” who, he told Lurie, had promised to get him out if he signed a statement he said had nothing to do with his tax evasion charge. At any rate Magnitsky made that fourth statement eleven months after his arrest. There‘s no way it was the reason for his arrest.
Browder attacks Lurie as a Putin friend, but in fact he is a critic of Putin and has photos supporting the Pussy Riot on his Facebook page.
Do these facts interest you? Indeed, they go against the current Russophobic policy advanced by the US pundits and deep state. But I found your presentation today quite independent of such expected this is what we have to believe. So maybe real evidence will interest you. Ask me for more and I will provide it.
Council member since 1994