After lobbying the UK government for the past seven years, a Jewish businessman and activist who describes himself as Vladimir Putin’s “number one enemy” has welcomed a move that could lead to tougher sanctions against corrupt Russian figures.
US-born William Browder has campaigned against President Putin’s regime since his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in jail under questionable circumstances after exposing high-level fraud. Mr Browder this week welcomed a move that could freeze assets of corrupt figures in the UK.
On Tuesday, Parliament passed sanctions inspired by Mr Magnitsky’s case as part of the Criminal Finances Bill. The move will enable Britain to freeze the assets of people accused of human rights abuses.
It came after years of lobbying by London-based Mr Browder in memory of the man he described as his friend.
Mr Browder, 52, said the new sanctions would “cause perceptible fear for kleptocrats in Russia and other authoritarian regimes. They all have expensive properties in London and think they are untouchable”.
He added: “Should the House of Lords pass this into law, the UK will be the second country in Europe to pass Magnitsky sanctions and will set a strong example for the rest of Europe.”
Sanctions in-spired by Mr Magnitsky’s case were passed in Estonia last year.
Born in America to socialist parents, Mr Browder, founder of Hermitage Capital Management, once said he rebelled against his family by becoming a capitalist.
Mr Browder, whose grandfather Earl Browder led the American Communist Party and twice ran for President, went on to become the largest foreign investor in Russia before he was suddenly deported from Moscow in 2005 accused of tax evasion.
After an unsuccessful red notice served against him by the Kremlin, Mr Browder enlisted the legal services of Mr Magnitsky.
The lawyer, who reportedly went on to uncover high-level corruption in Russia, was arrested and detained for 358 days before he died in jail in 2009.
Despite facing kidnapping threats and Interpol arrest notices, Mr Browder told the JC in 2015 he would continue to campaign against the regime.
“When you are doing this for as long as I have, you become inured to the fear. As a famous Mexican revolutionary once said: ‘I would rather die standing up than live my life on my knees.’
“I won’t live my life cowering in fear.”
The US passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012, enabling it to freeze assets and deny visas to 18 people linked to the lawyer’s death.
In retaliation, President Putin banned the adoption of Russian babies by Americans.