The businessman behind a sweeping set of U.S. sanctions against Russian officials says that there is little chance the act could be repealed by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The sanctions – known as the Magnitsky Act – gained renewed media attention earlier this year when President Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., revealed that they were the subject of a meeting he, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016.
Trump and his campaign’s potential ties to Russia have been the subject of much scrutiny. The U.S. president has been criticized for sometimes taking a sympathetic tone toward Russia and Putin – so some critics might suggest that could translate into sanctions relief for Moscow.
However Bill Browder, an anti-Putin campaigner, told WikiTribune that it would take an act of Congress to repeal the sanctions he helped put in place – “which is not gonna happen.”
“While [Trump’s] statements are highly offensive, in my opinion, about Vladimir Putin,” says Browder “his administration is staffed and headed by people who are all extremely robust towards Russia.”
“Nothing has happened that makes me feel like Russia has gotten away with anything yet,” continued Browder, CEO of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management and one of the men behind the Magnitsky act.
The Magnitsky Act was signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 and places asset freezes and travel restrictions on 44 Russians who have been linked to human-rights abuses, allegedly committed on behalf of the Kremlin.
On October 30, Paul Manafort submitted himself to questioning from the U.S. Justice Department, after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted him as part of his wide-ranging probe into alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian government. The indictment concerned allegations of tax avoidance, not collusion with the Russian government. (Full story here.)
Browder, who lobbied the U.S. government to adopt the Magnitsky Act, argues that speculation over the Trump campaign’s links with Russia actually protects the Magnistky Act.
“Whether there’s any truth about collusion or not, [Trump] can’t add to the narrative by doing anything that would be seen to be giving anything away to Russia right now.” – Bill Browder
“Whether there’s any truth about collusion or not, [Trump] can’t add to the narrative by doing anything that would be seen to be giving anything away to Russia right now,” Browder said.
While he doesn’t think the sanctions will be repealed, he does wonder whether the Trump administration might fail to enforce them.
“There is a possibility that the Trump administration doesn’t enforce the Magnitsky Act while Trump is president,” he said, referring to a report in Foreign Policy magazine, which said that the State Department is closing its office responsible for enforcing sanctions.
The report speculated that the State Department might struggle to coordinate and enforce sanctions, particularly targeted sanctions, such as those in the Magnitsky Act.
“I don’t know how [the Magnitsky Act is] gonna work going forward, [or] if it’s gonna work going forward in the United States,” he says.
The act is named after Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s former lawyer, who uncovered a $230 million fraud, perpetrated by people with links to the Kremlin in 2008. Russian security forces arrested Magnitsky in 2008 and he died in custody in Moscow a year later. Human rights activists allege he was tortured and denied medical treatment in custody.
The Russian government has repeatedly lobbied Interpol to place a “red notice” on Browder, on various charges. The latest effort – which occurred less than two weeks ago – included an attempt to turn the tables on Browder, by alleging that he conspired to murder Magnitsky, according to the New York Times. Interpol rejected the request, saying that it was politically motivated.
Earlier this month, Canada passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act. The law will allow for the freezing of assets and visa bans on officials from Russia and other nations considered to be in violation of human rights.
Browder was speaking to WikiTribune for a Q&A that will be published in full soon.