Leaked testimony by Bill Browder, an expert in money-laundering investigations, to a 2016 Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) shines a light on alleged criminality by British peers and their companies. Two years later, Browder provided similar testimony to the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) for its report on Russia. The ISC report was eventually published in July 2020, but excluded the peers and companies that Browder named.
Why does this matter? Because what’s apparent is that certain MPs have known about these allegations for years. Specifically, they have known the names of those peers and UK businesses Browder claims assisted individuals in alleged money laundering operations.
Browder’s campaign for justice
So who is Bill Browder?
Browder is CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and also heads the Global Magnitsky Justice (GMJ) campaign. The GMJ campaigns for “visa sanctions and asset freezes” against those allegedly involved in the arrest, torture, and death of Russian tax lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky, as well as “other gross human rights abusers”. Magnitsky accused senior Russian interior ministry officials of the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars. However, it wasn’t the interior ministry officials who ended up being arrested but Magnitsky himself. He was imprisoned and allegedly tortured. His health completely broke down while in prison, where he died in 2009, a year after his arrest.
In 2017, the UK parliament passed a sanctions and anti-money laundering bill that included a ‘Magnitsky amendment’. This followed the 2012 ‘Magnitsky Act‘ in the US. The UK act provides for the seizure of assets of individuals believed to be responsible for human rights violations. Browder wants “top Putin oligarchs” who are guilty of such human rights violations to be targeted.
25 Russians were targeted by the amendment in 2020. But as the Guardian reported:
It is not clear what – if any – assets the sanctioned Russians have in the UK. With the exception of Bastrykin, most are mid-ranking government officials.
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Browder’s unpublished 2016 testimony
Browder’s confidential testimony (redacted by The Canary) to the HASC began:
This submission provides examples showing that Russians connected to the US$230 million fraud uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky have recently paid significant amounts of money to resist Western sanctions
Browder says they did this “using companies connected to UK politicians, past and present members of the UK Parliament and the UK Government”. He elaborated:
They have done so through hiring several advisory firms [names redacted] with connection to members of the House of Lords, House of Commons and HMG, including personally [name redacted]
These firms agreed to work for Andrey Pavlov, member of the Russian criminal organisation responsible for the US$230 million fraud, and/or Denis Katsyv, son of the Russian government official, who is alleged to have laundered its proceeds.
“Proceeds of crime”
Browder also asked, “What is the outcome of the engagement by Andrey Pavlov and Denis Katsyv of UK firms?”. His reply to his own question was:
These UK-based commercial organisations have derived financial benefit from alleged Russian criminals, and have potentially received proceeds of crime as remuneration for their advisory services.
He added how the UK commercial firms referred to are able to influence whether or not legal proceedings are instigated. Indeed, Browder argues that there is a “conflict of interest” by those firms.
Browder ended his testimony with a series of recommendations to the HASC, including that ”members of the House of Lords… should be asked to explain the work of commercial advisory firms with which they have been personally associated”.
The Guardian invited responses from firms named in Browder’s ISC testimony (which were also named in the HASC testimony).
Debevoise & Plimpton replied:
Everyone is entitled to legal representation. Debevoise provides legal representation consistent with the profession’s best traditions of integrity and probity. We will continue fearlessly to defend the interests of all our clients.
[CTF] says [Peter] Goldsmith’s law firm hired a separate entity, CTF Corporate & Financial Communications (CTFCFC), to “research the EU sanctions landscape”. CTFCFC advised the law firm and there was no contact with Pavlov. “This was the extent of our involvement and to try and claim otherwise would be utterly false,” it said. According to Companies House records, Crosby is a CTFCFC director.
The Guardian added:
There is no suggestion Crosby personally worked on or was aware of the work on EU sanctions carried out by CTFCFC until it appeared in the media.
Separately, it should be noted that in December 2018, CTF Partners – Crosby’s “polling and market research” firm – gave Boris Johnson an interest-free loan of £20,000 which was declared and repaid and a further £3,000 donation. It’s also claimed that CTF staff ran pro-Brexit advertising via the invented group ‘Mainstream Network’, which spent £250,000 on such advertising, estimated to have reached more than 10 million voters.
A matter of public interest
Browder’s 2018 ISC testimony also referred to a 2012 investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. It “identified” 8,986 companies in the UK alone that were registered by just 28 individuals. Browder added that those companies “did not conduct genuine business activities and likely provided false filings to the UK’s Companies Houses over a number of years”.
Indeed, George Monbiot wrote that the UK now “appears to be the money-laundering capital of the world”.
In his ISC testimony, Browder expressed his frustration concerning the slow response by UK bodies into allegations he raised in 2016 about money laundering and criminality. He added how he was concerned:
that this lack of consequences and the ease with which they managed to infiltrate the UK financial and corporate registration systems have created the sentiment of impunity and emboldened Russian crime groups and state interests in the last decade
Several years later, and it seems little has changed.
It’s also a warning that’s still relevant, given allegations that Russia-related oligarchs donated significant sums of money to the Conservative Party, Tory MPs and their constituencies. And given that an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin donated millions of pounds to the husband of major Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin.
Featured image via Flickr / Images Money
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