Vladimir Kara-Murza, Washington bureau chief of Russian Television International, on the impending Magnitsky Act:
This bill, a rare example of congressional bipartisanship, proposes to introduce a targeted visa ban and asset freeze for Russian officials “responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky” — an anti-corruption lawyer tortured to death in a Moscow prison in 2009 — as well as for any “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” (among them, “the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections”). The Magnitsky Act would bring a much-needed measure of accountability to corrupt Russian officials and human rights violators who prefer to rule in the manner of Zimbabwe or Belarus but opt for such destinations as the United States or Britain when it comes to storing and spending their ill-gotten gains.
In any civilized country a thief and criminal like Vladimir Putin would be locked up in a well guarded prison. But instead of serving a deserved lifetime sentence, Putin has elevated himself to de facto lifetime president.
Bill Browder, founder of the Hermitage Fund, and the moving spirit behind the impending Magnitsky Act in the US Congress, tells reveals the reality of Putin´s Russia in a must read article:
Putin’s interests flipped at the end of 2003, when he arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky. That arrest had an extremely powerful effect on the country’s remaining oligarchs. Just imagine: you are the seventeenth richest oligarch in Russia. You turn on the TV on your yacht moored off the Hôtel du Cap in Antibes, and you see the richest guy in Russia — someone far better than you in all respects — sitting in a cage in a Moscow court. Your natural reaction is, ‘What do I have to do to not sit in a cage?’ In the summer of 2004, one by one, the oligarchs went back to Moscow, met with Putin and asked, ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich, what do we have to do to make sure we don’t sit in a cage?’
Putin’s answer was ‘50%’. I’ve surmised this from dozens of conversations and anecdotes I’ve heard since then. Of course, it could be 40%, or even 60% — I don’t know the exact number. But what I am sure of is that all the guys who said no to that deal ended up being run out of the country, losing all of their assets, or being sent to jail.
How can this amount of money go to Putin without anyone noticing? What needs to be understood about all these Russian oligarchs who are on the Forbes rich list, and who are supposedly worth 10, 15, 20 billion dollars is this: it is not actually all their money. In most cases, the people who are labelled as oligarchs are just extremely wealthy trustees.
For example, there’s a well-known Russian oligarch who owns four enormous mansions in North London. In my business I’ve come across many wealthy people and I can tell you that it is not normal behaviour to have four mansions in one city. In normal circumstances rich people will own a mansion in London, maybe one in the south of France, perhaps one in Miami. But it’s irrational to own four in North London. Unless, of course, three of them don’t belong to you.
As soon as Putin acquired a hefty interest in the assets of these oligarchs, his incentives changed. He was no longer interested in controlling or crushing these guys, since they were no longer independently wealthy. I, on the other hand, hadn’t noticed that the game had changed and had continued exposing the corruption in major Russian companies.
Read the entire article here