As It Happens

Putin critic says Russia put him on Interpol watchlist because Canada passed Magnitsky Act

CBC Radio

October 23, 2017

Bill Browder is a British hedge fund manager and human rights activist who has long been outspoken against Russian President Vladimir Putin's government. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

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Bill Browder was hoping to travel to Canada next week to celebrate the passing of a law aimed at punishing corrupt foreign officials, but now he's not so sure that's a good idea.

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"That may not be possible, if there's a risk of me being arrested when I come into Canada," the British hedge fund manager turned human rights activist told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Browder recently learned that his U.S. visa has been revoked by the Department of Homeland Security.

When he reached out to his law enforcement contacts to find out why, he discovered that Russia had placed his name on an Interpol "diffusion" list, putting him at risk of being arrested if he crosses an international border. 

Putin has vehemently opposed the Magnitsky Act in both the U.S. and Canada. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has since manually approved Browder's Electronic System for Travel Authorization, clearing him to travel to the U.S. without a visa, spokeperson Jennifer Gabris told As It Happens.

Moscow has not yet commented on the Interpol list, but Browder has long been a thorn in side of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2009, Browder's lawyer and accountant Sergei Magnitsky was murdered in a Russian prison, after helping expose a corruption and money laundering scheme. 

Three years later, Browder successfully lobbied the U.S. to pass the Magnitsky Act, which freezes assets and bans visas for Russian officials believed to be responsible the lawyer's death. 

The law has long been a sour point for Russia, which restricted the U.S. adoption of Russian babies in retaliation. It was also the subject of a controversial meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during the 2016 election campaign, according to Trump Jr. 

Nataliya Magnitskaya, mother of Sergei Magnitsky, holds his portrait as she speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Moscow. Magnitsky was killed in a Russian prison after exposing a money laundering scheme. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo)

Last week, Canada passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act called the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, or Bill S-226.

Browder testified in the House of Commons in favour of the law, which broadly allows the Canadian government to impose sanctions and travel bans on foreign officials responsible for gross human rights violations.

Bill S-226 drew a strong rebuke from Putin, who accused Canada of playing "unconstructive political games."

"Vladimir Putin gave a speech in which he was very angry about the Magnitsky Act, very angry at me personally and, on the same day, effectively, they went to Interpol," Brodwer said.

"So I think their request of Interpol is a direct result of the Magnitsky Act being passed in Canada."

Magnitsky Act | Russia upset over new Canadian human rights measure  2:15

Russia has convicted Browder in absentia of fraud, a charge he dismisses as "trumped up" and "politically motivated."

More recently, the Putin government has accused Browder killing Magnitsky himself, the New York Times reports.

'I'm giving everyone the benefit of the doubt at the moment, other than Vladimir Putin.' - Bill Browder

"They are cooking that up," Browder said.

"They somehow think that, even though I was in sitting in London, that I murdered Sergei Magnitsky and then went around the world for eight years fighting for justice for Sergei Magnitsky."

Browder said Interpol has rejected previous Russian attempts to put him on an international watchlist and he's hoping the organization will do so again and that the U.S. will follow suit.

Interpol has not responded to As It Happens' request for comment.

"Hopefully, this will be dealt with very expeditiously," Browder said. "I'm giving everyone the benefit of the doubt at the moment, other than Vladimir Putin."

— With files from CBC News