Russia accuses Kremlin critic Bill Browder of ordering murder of his own lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky

Matthew Bodner
Bill Browder testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election - REUTERS

Russian prosecutors on Monday accused Bill Browder, a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin, of ordering the murder of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and several other business associates - the latest in a string of efforts to discredit one of the most vocal advocates of sanctions against the regime.

Magnitsky, a lawyer working for Mr Browder, was arrested in 2008 after uncovering evidence of large-scale tax fraud among Russian officials. He died a year later in a Moscow prison, after he was reportedly assaulted and denied proper medical treatment. Mr Browder, once an early supporter of Mr Putin, has since lobbied tirelessly for sanctions against the Russian president and his entourage.

Mr Browder, the British head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, branded the accusations "Kafka-esque". Writing on social media, he cast them as a vendetta waged by Mr Putin for his lobbying, which in 2012 led to US sanctions on Russia in what is widely known as the Magnitsky Act.

"I really struck a nerve with the Magnitsky Act," Mr Browder said. 

The accusations come as Interpol, an international body for coordinating national police efforts, meets this week to elect a new president. A report published by The Sunday Times said a Russian Interior Ministry official is expected to win, sparking concern that Moscow may use the organisation to target critics and dissidents residing beyond Russian police jurisdiction.

“Russia has made seven abusive attempts to have me arrested since 2013 on politically motivated charges,” Mr Browder told Newsweek. “If Russia is allowed to take over Interpol it is like the mafia taking over global law enforcement.”

Nataliya Magnitskaya, the mother of Sergei Magnitsky, holds a photo of her son following his death in a Russian jail in 2009  Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

In May, Mr Browder was briefly arrested in Madrid by Spanish police acting on an Interpol Red Notice issued by Russia, but was released amid an international outcry. The Council of Europe has previously accused Moscow of abusing the Interpol system to pursue "political goals", referencing its pursuit of the British financier.

Prosecutors also said at a press conference in Moscow on Monday that Mr Browder is being formally charged with operating a vast international money laundering empire, calling again for his arrest. These charges were used to argue that Magnitsky was a member of this organisation, giving Mr Browder motive to order his death, the Interfax news agency reported.

In an odd parallel to the recent case surrounding the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, prosecutors said there was evidence Magnitsky and three other deceased former Browder associates showed evidence of poisoning by a “toxic inorganic aluminum compound,” Interfax reported.  Only the US, France and Italy have studied such compounds they said, not Russia.