Award-winning Russian filmmaker and investigative journalist Andrei Nekrasov has petitioned the EU Commission president to consider evidence that challenges the official EU narrative into the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, the tax advisor who worked for Hermitage Fund chief Bill Browder. What has been the EU response thus far to the request? Nothing but a cacophony of crickets.
Last month, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, in the course of her State of the Union Address, urged parliament to “complete our tool box” by passing a so-called ‘European Magnitsky Act’ to punish Russia over the 2009 death of Sergey Magnitsky. Unfortunately, the only tool that appears in the EU “tool box” at this point is a sledgehammer.
Von der Leyen appears to be doing the cheap bidding of Washington at a time when the Trump administration is furious over the prospects of Germany and Russia completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which envisages 55 bln cubic meters moving annually from the coast of Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Such a project could actually work to dissolve tensions between Brussels and Moscow, and of course Washington would never stand for that. The EU Commission president hinted as much in her speech when she remarked that “no pipeline will change” Brussels’ stance. Incidentally, this makes the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, seem all the more questionable when considered in the full context of events.
In any case, for anyone who has been following the long string of accusations being leveled against Russia over the course of the last several years, an unmistakable pattern has emerged. From the suspicious ‘poisoning’ of the Skripals in the UK, to the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine, Russia is never invited to contribute testimony and evidence that may help to shine a critical light on the proceedings. That seems to be an unforgivable oversight if the pursuit of truth were indeed the goal.
Instead of going out of its way to base its conclusions on all of the available data, the Western capitals are once again picking and choosing its sources. In the Magnitsky case, the bulk of the ‘incriminating evidence’ is being provided by none other than Bill Browder, an individual who has a real conflict of interest in the case, to say the least.
Before continuing, some essential background. As an auditor at the Moscow law firm Firestone Duncan, Sergey Magnitsky worked directly with Hermitage Capital Management, the asset management company headed by Browder. In 2001, Browder was the director of two HSBC subsidiary companies that were eventually accused by the government of underpaying its taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Browder was convicted in Russia in absentia for “aggravated tax evasion” as well as illegally bankrupting a company involved in tax fraud. As for Magnitsky, he met a more tragic fate, dying in 2009 in a Moscow prison awaiting trial for tax fraud, a tragedy that has provided the basis for the so-called Magnitsky Act. In Western capitals, the name Magnitsky has become synonymous with the “murderous brutality” that the Western media endlessly ascribes to the Russian state. For many Russians, however, the case provides yet another stark example of the West acting unilaterally as judge, jury and executioner without considering all of the available evidence and facts at its disposal.
Former Kremlin critic questions Browder story
Andrei Nekrasov, an award-winning Russian filmmaker and investigative journalist, has spent a considerable amount of time and energy getting to the bottom of the Magnitsky case. In 2016, he released a film entitled, ‘The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes’, which was supported by a number of European film funds and the public Franco-German TV network Arte TV. In the words of the New York Times, the film was “generating a furor.” In the film, Nekrasov argues, with no shortage of compelling evidence, that entire governments are being misled by Browder into believing that Magnitsky had been persecuted and killed for exposing political corruption. That is highly questionable, Nekrasov argues, considering that Browder had been an avid supporter of the Russian government before the question of tax fraud hit the headlines.
In his open letter to the EU Commission, Nekrasov goes on to take issue with Browder’s claim that Magnitsky was tortured during his imprisonment, revealing that the auditor “spent a considerable part of his detention in an “elite” – better equipped – section of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison…. where the rich and famous prisoners, such as the oil tycoon [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky…. and the leaders of the 1991 coup against Gorbachev were kept.”
Furthermore, during a Oct, 2013 hearing at the UK High Court of Justice (‘Karpov vs Browder’), Browder claimed that the Russian authorities, purportedly wanting Magnitsky out of the way, imprisoned him because the lethal outcome was a “reasonably foreseeable” consequence of the sentence, “not least” because of the high mortality rate in the Russian prisons. Judge Simon, however, dismissed such a “causal link”, noting that “nothing is said [by Browder – R.B.] about torture and murder ( §128, Page 25 ).
Meanwhile, Magnitsky himself stated that the quality of the medical attention he received in prison was “adequate”.
Here, it is important to note that Nekrasov is no biased journalist with a political ax to grind. As far as reporting the truth goes, he is a rare type of reporter who is guided not by a desire to reach a predetermined conclusion, but by where the facts lead him. In fact, in one of his earlier documentaries, ‘Disbelief,’ he discusses the 1999 Russian apartment bombings in a way that showed the government in a negative light.
In his letter, he admits that he was ready to retell Browder’s emotional story about his “heroic lawyer.”
“I believed Browder,” Nekrasov writes, “partly for political reasons, as my previous work had been highly critical of the Russian government.”
He continues: “Having, however, detected inconsistencies in Mr. Browder’s story I decided not to sweep them under the rug. The result of my investigative work, the film entitled “The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes” was at first highly praised by its commissioning editors, at ZDF/ARTE inter alia. The premiere of the film was to be held at the European Parliament in April 2016. Yet, as a result of Browder’s intense pressure on the top management of ZDF, and a decision of a group of Green MEPs, the screening was dramatically cancelled, minutes before the planned starting time.”
It is difficult, as the mild-mannered journalist confessed, to consider that snub as “anything but censorship”.
The question that must be asked is obvious: how can the President of the EU Commission call to punish Russia when the cinematic work of a highly respected investigative journalist, who provides an alternative perspective to the Magnitsky case, is banned from viewing for EU MEPs due to the threat of legal action by Bill Browder? How can the West speak about “democracy” and the “rule of law” when only one side of the Magnitsky saga is allowed to go unchallenged? Why does Mr. Browder feel compelled to suppress this film? If he is telling the truth, why not let Neskrasov’s ‘false’ story see the light of day so that the facts can speak for themselves?
Andrei Neskarov’s letter ends as follows:
“Should you not be concerned that the findings of other European journalistic investigations [here, here and here] … while directly relevant to the Magnitsky question, have apparently failed to reach your high offices and your keen attention?
My film, “The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes”, ends with a question: “Will democracy survive if its moral high ground, human rights, is used to protect selfish interests?”
My film was censored, but I pose that question again today.
Nekrasov’s open letter to the President of the EU Commission can be read in its entirety here.