Top Senators call for 'immediate review' of decision to bar anti-Putin activist Bill Browder from the US

Bill BrowderCNN/screenshotBill Browder

Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin released a joint statement on Monday calling on the Department of Homeland Security to “expedite an immediate review” of the decision to bar the banker-turned-human rights activist Bill Browder from the United States.

“William Browder is strong advocate for anti-corruption efforts around the world and we relied on his expertise and support as we led the effort to pass the Magnitsky Act,” the Senators wrote, referring to legislation spearheaded by Browder in 2012 that punished high-level Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Magnitsky was jailed by some of the same Russian officials he had accused of corruption, Browder has said, and was beaten to death by prison guards after failing to receive medical treatment for pancreatitis and other serious ailments.

Russia has claimed Magnitsky died of natural causes and, in a new twist, is now accusing Browder of colluding with a British spy in 2009 “to cause the death of S. L. Magnitsky by persuading Russian prison doctors to withhold care,” according to The New York Times.

“Mr. Browder’s work has helped to remove corrupt actors from our financial system and enhance accountability measures with respect to the US relationship with the Russian Federation — it would be unfortunate if the US decided to bar him based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation,” the Senators wrote.

Browder said on Sunday that his authorization to travel to the US using his British passport via an ESTA visa was revoked on the same day that Russian prosecutors issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest on charges of tax evasion and murder.

The Department of Homeland Security referred questions to the State Department, which was not immediately available for comment.

Browder tweeted over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin had managed, on the fifth attempt, to place him on the Interpol list after four previous rejections by the International Police Organisation. Russian investigators have accused Browder of several crimes over the past decade, including tax evasion and a scheme to bypass the Kremlin to buy up Gazprom shares for foreign investors, in an effort to undermine his credibility.

Interpol did not immediately return a request for comment. But Browder said Russian officials had used a “loophole” known as a diffusion notice to bypass scrutiny by Interpol HQ. A diffusion notice is similar to, but less formal than, a red notice, which is “the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to the Justice Department.

The same day the warrant was issued, Browder said, he was notified that his ESTA had been revoked. Browder gave up his US citizenship in 1998 and became a British citizen.

Read the Senators’ full statement below:

“We understand that William Browder’s U.S. visa has been revoked due his inclusion on the Interpol list. According to Browder, the Russian government has submitted his name for inclusion on the Interpol list on several occasions in the past, yet it was rejected as politically motivated. And through these episodes, his U.S. visa status has been immediately reinstated. The Department of Homeland Security should expedite an immediate review of the decision to revoke Mr. Browder’s visa.

“Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian lawyer who worked for Bill Browder and helped to uncover a massive corruption scheme in Russia. He was targeted by the authorities and died while in custody. His unfortunate demise led to our work on the Magnitsky Act, which bars Russian figures who are connected to the Magnitsky case or are complicit in gross violations of human rights from entering the United States. The measure also authorised the freezing of their assets.

“William Browder is strong advocate for anti-corruption efforts around the world and we relied on his expertise and support as we led the effort to pass the Magnitsky Act. Mr. Browder’s work has helped to remove corrupt actors from our financial system and enhance accountability measures with respect to the U.S. relationship with the Russian Federation — it would be unfortunate if the U.S. decided to bar him based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation.”

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