Sweden’s parliament has cancelled a briefing on potential sanctions against Russian officials accused of corruption after the campaign’s leader, London-based investor William Browder, was refused safe passage by the country’s justice ministry.
Browder, once a major foreign investor in Russia, was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison by a Moscow court this summer on charges widely seen as politicall motivated. Russia continues to seek his extradition.
He accused Sweden of bowing to pressure from Moscow by refusing him safe passage as he lobbies European governments to sanction officials involved in the prison death of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, four years ago.
“This is a Russian appeasement strategy,” Browder told BuzzFeed. “They don’t want to do anything that will upset Russia. They’ve chosen the ease of diplomacy over the right thing to do.”
In a letter to Browder’s lawyers dated September 11 and seen by BuzzFeed, Sweden’s justice ministry said that Russia had not requested it extradite Browder and that it could not legally intervene prior to a request being filed. “Neither is the Government authorized to instruct an authority on how to act on individual cases,” State Secretary Martin Valfridsson wrote. Sweden restated its refusal last Monday after Browder appealed.
The Netherlands granted Browder a similar request earlier this year, as did Germany, albeit only after public outcry following an initial refusal. Interpol has refused to cooperate with the Russian warrant and says the case against him is of a “predominantly political nature.”
Browder, once the largest foreign investor in Russia before his visa was revoked and his assets seized, is pushing for the European Union to issue visa bans and freeze the assets of Russian officials involved in a massive corruption case that led to the death of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in prison. Russia reacted furiously after Congress passed a similar law named after Magnitsky late last year, and in response banned all adoptions of Russian children by Americans and filed tax evasion charges against Browder and Magnitsky. Fifty-nine Swedish lawmakers signed a petition last year asking the government to consider sanctions against the officials, but no action was taken.
A Moscow court sentenced Browder to 9 years in prison in July. Magnitsky, who died in 2009 after what Russia’s presidential human rights commission said was systematic torture, is the only person in Russian history to have been convicted of a crime posthumously. The only official to be charged in his death, a prison doctor, was acquitted late last year after prosecutors abruptly dropped charges.
Magnitsky testified in 2008 that corrupt officials colluded with organized crime to illegally seize subsidiaries of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital Management, and fraudulently claim a $230 million tax refund. The same officials jailed Magnitsky on charges of having committed the crime himself. He died of acute pancreatitis a year later.