Chapeau, Mr Browder! Hats off for this incredible man. Last month, he succeeded in stopping a film screening in the European parliament and took off a few articles from American web sites. This week, he turned the only US screening of a film critical to his version of events into a ruckus. No freedom of speech for his enemies! His lawyers prowl around and issue summons to whoever digs in his sordid affairs. His hacks re-wrote his Wikipedia entry, expunging even discussions of the topic: despite hundreds of edits, nothing survived but the official version. Only a few powerful men succeed purifying their record to such an extent. Still, good fortune (a notoriously flighty lady) is about to desert Mr Browder.
Who is this extremely influential man? A businessman, a politician, a spy? The American-born Jewish tycoon William Browder, says The Jewish Chronicle, considers himself Putin’s Number One enemy. For him, Putin is “no friend of the Jews”, “cold-blooded killer” and even “criminal dictator who is not too different from Hitler, Mussolini or Gadhafi”. More to a point, Browder is the man who contributed most to the new cold war between the West and Russia. The roots were there, still he made them blossom. If the US and Russia haven’t yet exchanged nuclear salvos, do not blame Browder: he tried. For a valid reason, too: he was hit by cruel Hitler-like Mr Putin into his most susceptible spot, namely his pocket. Or was there even a better reason?
Browder, a grandson of the US Communist leader, came to Russia at its weakest point after the Soviet collapse, and grabbed an enormous fortune by opaque financial transactions. Such fortunes are not amassed by the pure of spirit. He was a ruthless man who did as much as any oligarch to enrich himself.
Eventually he ran afoul of Mr Putin, who was (and is) very tolerant of oligarchs as long as they play by the rules. The oligarchs would not be oligarchs if they would found that an easy condition. Some of them tried to fight back: Khodorkovsky landed in jail, Berezovsky and Gusinsky went to exile. Browder had a special position: he was the only Jewish oligarch in Russia who never bothered to acquire the Russian citizenship. He was barred from returning to Russia, and his companies were audited and found wanting.
As you’d expect, huge tax evasion was discovered. Browder thought that as long as he sucked up to Putin, he’d get away with bloody murder, let alone tax evasion. He was mistaken. Putin is nobody’s fool. Flatterers do not get a free ride in Putin’s Russia. And Browder became too big for his boots.
It turned out that he did two unforgivable things. Russians were afraid the foreigners would buy all their assets for a song, using favourable exchange rates and lack of native capital, as had happened in the Baltic states and other ex-Communist East European countries. In order to avoid that, shares of Russian blue-chip companies (Gazprom and suchlike) were traded among Russian citizens only. Foreigners had to pay much more. Browder bought many such shares via Russian frontmen, and he was close to getting control over Russian oil and gas. Putin suspected that he had acted in the interests of big foreign oil companies, trying to repeat the feat of Mr Khodorkovsky.
His second mistake was being too greedy. Russian taxation is very low; but Browder did not want to pay even this low tax. He hired Mr Magnitsky, an experienced auditor, who used loopholes in the Russian tax code in order to avoid taxes altogether. Magnitsky established dummy companies based in tax-free zones of Russia, such as pastoral Kalmykia, small, Buddhist, and autonomous. Their tax-free status had been granted in order to improve their economy and reduce unemployment; however, Browder’s companies did not contribute to economy and did not employ people; they were paper dummies swiftly bankrupted by the owner.
Another Magnitsky trick was to form companies fronted by handicapped people who were also freed from paying tax. In the film, some of these persons, often illiterate and of limited intelligence, told the filmmaker of signing papers they could not read and of being paid a little money for the millions passing through their account.
(Mr Browder does not deny these accusations; he says there is nothing criminal in trying to avoid taxes. You can read about Browder and Magnitsky tricks here and here, and learn of the ways they attacked companies using minority shareholders and many other neat schemes.)
Eventually Magnitsky’s schemes were discovered and he was arrested. Ten months later, in 2009, he died in jail. By that time, his patron Mr Browder was abroad, and he began his campaign against Russia hoping to regain his lost assets. He claimed Mr Magnitsky had been his lawyer, who discovered misdeeds and the outright thievery of government officials, and was imprisoned and tortured to death for this discovery.
The US Congress rushed in the Magnitsky Act, the first salvo of the Cold War Two. By this act, any Russian person could be found responsible for Mr Magnitsky’s untimely death and for misappropriation of Browder’s assets. His properties could be seized, bank accounts frozen – without any legal process or representation. This act upset the Russians, who allegedly had kept a cool $500 billion in the Western banks, so tit for tat started, and it goes to this very day.
The actual effect of the Magnitsky Act was minimal: some twenty million dollars frozen and a few dozen not-very-important people were barred from visiting the US. Its psychological effect was much greater: the Russian elite realised that they could lose their money and houses anytime – not in godless Putin’s Russia, but in the free West, where they had preferred to look for refuge. The Magnitsky Act paved the road to the Cyprus confiscation of Russian deposits, to post-Crimean sanctions and to a full-fledged Cold War.
This was painful for Russia, as the first adolescent disillusionment in its love affair with the West, and rather healthy, in my view. A spot of cold war (very cold, plenty of ice please) is good for ordinary people, while its opposite, a Russian-American alliance, is good for the elites. The worst times for ordinary Russian people were 1988-2001, when Russians were in love with the US. The oligarchs stole everything there was to steal and sold it to the West for pennies. They bought villas in Florida while Russia fell apart. That was bad time for everybody: the US invaded Panama and Afghanistan unopposed, Iraq was sanctioned to death, Yugoslavia was bombed and broken to pieces.
As the Cold War came back, some normalcy was restored: the Russians stopped the US from destroying Syria, and Russian officials learned to love Sochi instead of Miami. For this reason alone, Browder can be counted as a part of the power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good. The Russian government, however, did not enjoy the cold shower.
The Russians denied any wrongdoing or even political reasons for dealing with Browder. They say Magnitsky was not a lawyer, just an auditor and a tax code expert. They say that he was arrested and tried for his tax avoidance schemes, and he died of natural causes while in jail. Nobody listened to them, until they demanded that Browder testify under oath. He refused. For two years lawyers tried to give him a summons, but he was a quick runner. There are funny videos showing Browder running away from summons.
Some good sense began to seep into American minds. The New Republic wondered: if Browder was indeed the victim of persecution in Russia and had enlisted the U.S. justice system to right the balance, why was he so reluctant to offer his sworn testimony in an American courtroom?
Enter Mr Andrey Nekrasov, a Russian dissident filmmaker. He made a few films considered to be highly critical of Russian government. He alleged the FSB blew up houses in Moscow in order to justify the Chechnya war. He condemned the Russian war against Georgia in 2008, and had been given a medal by Georgian authorities. He did not doubt the official Western version of Browder-Magnitsky affair, and decided to make a film about the noble American businessman and the brave Russian lawyer fighting for human rights. The European organisations and parliamentarians provided the budget for the film. They also expected the film to denounce Putin and glorify Magnitsky, the martyr.
However, while making the film, Mr Nekrasov had his Road to Damascus moment. He realised that the whole narrative was hinging on the unsubstantiated words of Mr Browder. After painstaking research, he came to some totally different conclusions, and in his version, Browder was a cheat who run afoul of law, while Magnitsky was his sidekick in those crimes.
Nekrasov discovered an interview Magnitsky gave in his jail. In this interview, the accountant said he was afraid Browder would kill him to prevent him from denouncing Browder, and would make him his scapegoat. It turned out Browder tried to bribe the journalist who made the interview to have these words expunged. Browder was the main beneficiary of the accountant’s death, realised Nekrasov, while his investigators were satisfied with Magnitsky’s collaboration with them.
Nekrasov could not find any evidence that Magnitsky tried to investigate the misdeeds of government officials. He was too busy covering his own tax evasion. And instead of fitting his preconceived notions, Nekrasov made the film about what he learned. (Here are some details of Nekrasov’s film)
While the screening in the EU Parliament was been stopped by the powerful Mr Browder, in Washington DC the men are made of sterner stuff. Despite Browder’s threats the film was screened, presented by the best contemporary American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who is 80 if a day, and still going strong. One has to recognise that the US is second to none for freedom of speech on the globe.
What makes Browder so powerful? He invests in politicians. This is probably a uniquely Jewish quality: Jews outspend everybody in contributions to political figures. The Arabs will spend more on horses and jets, the Russians prefer real estate, the Jews like politicians. The Russian NTV channel reported that Browder lavishly financed the US lawmakers. Here they present alleged evidence of money transfers: some hundred thousand dollars was given by Browder’s structures officially to the senators and congressmen in order to promote the Magnitsky Act.
Much bigger sums were transferred via good services of Brothers Ziff, mega-rich Jewish American businessmen, said the researchers in two articles published on the Veteran News Network and in The Huffington Post.
These two articles were taken off the sites very fast under pressure of Browder’s lawyers, but they are available in the cache. They disclose the chief beneficiary of Browder’s generosity. This is Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. He was the engine behind Magnitsky Act legislation to such an extent that the Act has been often called the Cardin List. Cardin is a fervent supporter of Hillary Clinton, also a cold warrior of good standing. More to a point, Cardin is a prominent member of Israel Lobby.
Browder affair is a heady upper-class Jewish cocktail of money, spies, politicians and international crime. Almost all involved figures appear to be Jewish, not only Browder, Brothers Ziff and Ben Cardin. Even his enemy, the beneficiary of the scam that (according to Browder) took over his Russian assets is another Jewish businessman Dennis Katsiv (he had been partly exonerated by a New York court as is well described in this thoughtful piece).
Browder began his way to riches under the patronage of a very rich and very crooked Robert Maxwell, a Czech-born Jewish businessman who assumed a Scots name. Maxwell stole a few million dollars from his company pension fund before dying in mysterious circumstances on board of his yacht in the Atlantic. It was claimed by a member of Israeli Military Intelligence, Ari Ben Menashe, that Maxwell had been a Mossad agent for years, and he also said Maxwell tipped the Israelis about Israeli whistle-blower Mordecai Vanunu. Vanunu was kidnapped and spent many years in Israeli jails.
Geoffrey Goodman wrote Maxwell “was almost certainly being used as – and using himself as – a two-way intelligence conduit [between East and West]. This arrangement included passing intelligence to the Israeli secret forces with whom he became increasingly involved towards the end of his life.”
After Maxwell, Browder switched allegiance to Edmond Safra, a very rich Jewish banker of Lebanese origin, who also played East vs West. Safra provided him with working capital for his investment fund. Safra’s bank has been the unlikely place where the IMF loan of four billion dollars to Russia had been transferred—and disappeared. The Russian authorities say that Browder has been involved in this “crime of the century,” next to Safra. The banker’s name has been connected to Mossad: increasingly fearful for his life, Safra surrounded himself by Mossad-trained gunmen. This did not help him: he died a horrible death in his bathroom when his villa was torched by one of the guards.
The third Jewish oligarch on Browder’s way was Boris Berezovsky, the king-maker of Yeltsin’s Russia. He also died in his bathroom (which seems to be a constant feature); apparently he committed suicide. Berezovsky had been a politically active man; he supported every anti-Putin force in Russia. However, a few months before his death, he asked for permission to return to Russia, and some negotiations went on between him and Russian authorities.
His chief of security Sergey Sokolov came to Russia and purportedly brought with him some documents his late master prepared for his return. These documents allege that Browder had been an agent of Western intelligence services, of the CIA to begin with, and of MI6 in following years. He was given a code name Solomon, as he worked for Salomon Brothers. His financial activity was just a cover for his true intentions, that is to collect political and economic data on Russia, and to carry out economic war on Russia. This revelation has been made in the Russia-1 TV channel documentary Browder Effect, (broadcasted 13.04.2016), asserting that Browder was not after money at all, and his activities in Russia, beside being very profitable, had a political angle.
The documents had been doubted for some linguistic reasons discussed by Gilbert Doctorow who comes to a reasonable conclusion: “Bill Browder[‘s]… intensity and the time he was devoting to anti-Russian sanctions in Europe was in no way comparable to the behaviour of a top level international businessman. It was clear to me that some other game was in play. But at the time, no one could stand up and suggest the man was a fraud, an operative of the intelligence agencies. Whatever the final verdict may be on the documents presented by the film “The Browder Effect,” it raises questions about Browder that should have been asked years ago in mainstream Western media if journalists were paying attention. Yevgeny Popov deserves credit for highlighting those questions, even if his documents demand further investigation before we come to definitive answers”.
We do not know whether Browder is, or had been, a spy. This should not surprise us, as he was closely connected to Maxwell, Safra and Berezovsky, the financiers with strong ties in the intelligence community.
Perhaps he outlived his usefulness, Mr Browder did. He started the Cold war, now is the time to keep it in its healthy limits and to avoid a nuclear disaster or rapid armaments race. This is the task we may hope will be entertained by the next US President, Mr Donald Trump.
This article was first published in The Unz Review.
Israel Shamir can be reached at [email protected]