Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder Discusses Fight Against Russian Injustice
The Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series hosted Bill Browder, founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, on Tuesday, Sept. 13. The series brings distinguished leaders to Georgetown’s campus to share their experiences with students, faculty, and alumni.
In 1996 Browder established Hermitage Capital Management, which advised the largest Russian investment fund for nearly a decade. In 2005, Browder was blacklisted and banned from reentering the country as a result of his fight against corporate corruption.
“I was declared a threat to national security,” Browder said. “I was the largest foreign investor in Russia that wasn’t allowed back into the country. And when the Russians turn on you, they tend to do so with extreme prejudice.”
Following his banishment, 50 officers from the Interior Ministry of Russia raided Browder’s Moscow office. The officers seized control of three Hermitage holding companies and used them to steal $230 million of taxes. Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was investigating the matter when he was arrested, detained, and tortured for 358 days.
“They put [Magnitsky] in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds [and] left the lights on for 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation,” Browder said. “The purpose of this was to try to get him to withdraw his testimony against the police officers and to sign a false confession saying that he stole the $230 million.”
Magnitsky refused to sign the false confession. After six months of consistent torture, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and gallstones. Magnitsky remained adamant about not signing the false confession. As a result, he was moved to a maximum security prison that lacked a medical facility.
“He was in constant, agonizing, ear-piercing pain,” Browder said. “He and his lawyers desperately wrote requests for medical attention to every branch of the criminal justice system. They wrote 20 different letters. Every one of their letters was either ignored or rejected.”
Magnitsky went into critical condition on November 16, 2009. He was sent to another facility, where he was beaten to death by prison authorities. He was 37 years old.
Heartbroken, Browder sought justice for his colleague.
“I made a vow to him, to his memory, to his family, and to myself that I was not going to let these people get away with it,” Browder said. “I was going to use whatever resources I had to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky.”
Following the murder, all of the officers involved in Magnitsky’s death were exonerated, and some were promoted. Magnitsky was prosecuted in Russia’s first ever posthumous trial, while Browder was tried as his co-defendant. Both parties were found guilty.
Unable to obtain justice in Russia, Browder shifted his attention to the United States. He met with senators John McCain and Ben Cardin and developed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposed visa sanctions and asset freezes on those involved in Magnitsky’s imprisonment. The bill passed and was signed into law in December 2012.
There are 39 people on the Magnitsky list, seven of whom were involved in human rights abuses other than the maltreatment of Magnitsky.
“This law became the template for when Russia invaded Ukraine,” Browder said. “There was no argument in Washington on what to do. They immediately used the Magnitsky law to sanction Russians involved in the invasion of Ukraine.”
McCain and Cardin recently proposed a global Magnitsky act, which would punish people all over the world for human rights abuses. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and is currently circulating in the House of Representatives.
“We’ll never be able to bring Sergei Magnitsky back,” Browder said. “But his legacy is one where it punishes bad people for doing bad things all over the world.”
— Lindsay Reilly