(CNSNews.com) - Repeal of the Magnitsky Act is Vladimir Putin’s “single most important foreign policy priority,” William Browder told Congress on Thursday.
Browder, who once ran a large investment firm in Russia, uncovered massive fraud and corruption among Russian bureaucrats while he was working there. Browder eventually was expelled from the country, and he lobbied for the Magnitsky Act -- named after his attorney Sergei Magnitsky -- who was tortured and killed in 2009 for refusing to withdraw his testimony against corrupt Russian officials.
President Obama signed the bill passed by Congress into law in 2012. It bars the travel and freezes the assets of Russian human rights violators - “Russian torturers and murderers,” as Browder put it.
The Russian corruption goes to the very top, Browder told Congress. And it explains why Vladimir Putin’s minions would set up a meeting with the Trump campaign in June 2016, after Trump received the Republican nomination:
“Vladimir Putin, I believe to be the richest man in the world,” Browder told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “I believe he’s worth $200 billion. That money is held all over the world -- in banks in America and all over.
The purpose of Putin’s regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money, and he doesn’t want to lose that money by having it frozen. So he personally is at risk of the Magnitsky Act. It’s a very personal, venal issue, which is the first reason why he’s so upset,” Browder said.
Browder said the second reason for Putin’s campaign to repeal the law is the consequences imposes on Putin’s allies:
He testified that Putin has instructed the people working for him to “do terrible things,” including arrest, kidnap, torture and murder, all done to seize people’s personal property. And the only way Putin could get his people to do such terrible things was to promise them there would be no consequences – “absolute impunity,” Browder said.
“And as a result of the Magnitsky Act, he can no longer guarantee absolute impunity, because all of a sudden we have consequences in the West. And I would not understate the value of the Magnitsky Act in terms of the consequences, because not only does it freeze the assets that are held in America, but the moment that you get onto the Magnitsky list, you get put on the OFAC sanctions list (Office of Foreign Assets Control), which is a (U.S.) Treasury sanctions list.
“No bank in the world wants to be in violation of Treasury sanctions, and therefore any bank, even if it’s South Korea or Dubai – if they see somebody on the Treasury sanctions list, will close their account that day. And as a result, you basically become a financial pariah. And so it’s a real consequence,” Browder said.
The Russian lawyer who met with the Donald Trump Jr. is the family lawyer for a member of the Putin regime and has worked directly for the Russian government, Browder said.
He said he can “conclude with certainty” that she was pressing for repeal of the Magnitsky Act when she met with Don Jr. and others at Trump Tower. “She has said it – it’s been said by people who attended that meeting,” Browder noted.
“This was a big ask,” Browder said. “To go and ask the possible future next president of the United States to repeal a major piece of human rights legislation, they wouldn’t have gone and said, please, can you repeal this for us, without having something to offer in return.
“What they were willing to offer in return, I don’t know. Whether that offer made any sense to the other side, I don’t know.”
Browder also said that Fusion GPS, the group hired by Hillary Clinton supporters that put together the salacious dossier on Donald Trump, was receiving money indirectly from a senior Russian government official.
He said the group should have registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which would have forced them to disclose their ties to the Russian government.