This is Part Four of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death — and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016.
Today, in Part Four of this series on Sergei Magnitsky, I discuss the reaction of the Russian government to the Magnitsky Act, and why they hate it so much. You’ll learn why a Russian woman wanted to meet with Trump Jr. and friends in 2016. Hint: it isn’t just about “adoption.”
PUTIN’S HOSTILITY TOWARDS BILL BROWDER AND HIS EFFORTS TO REPEAL THE MAGNITSKY ACT
The Magnitsky Act has very much upset the top echelons of Russian government. Bill Browder and Sergei Magnitsky were tried in absentia for various trumped-up allegations even after Magnitsky was killed — resulting in laughable convictions that nobody takes seriously. Putin has repeatedly tried to have Browder arrested by seeking a “red notice” from Interpol authorizing him to be arrested and extradited (hence the title of Browder’s book). Interpol, which usually honors such requests, has refused to do so in Browder’s case. In 2013, Putin puppet Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as saying at Davos: “It’s too bad that Sergei Magnitsky is dead and Bill Browder is still alive and free.” That is a chilling statement from someone who had recently been the president of a country known for assassinating its enemies, both at home and abroad.
Most significantly, Vladimir Putin retaliated against the United States’s passage of the Magnitsky Act by banning adoptions of Russian children by citizens of the United States. This was a heartless act, because the children that Americans adopt from Russia are at significant risk. As Browder explains in his book:
Putin’s proposed ban was significant because over the last decade Americans had adopted over sixty thousand Russian orphans. In recent years Russia had restricted most American adoptions to sick children — those with HIV, Down syndrome, and spina bifida, among many other disorders. Some of these children wouldn’t survive without the medical care they would receive from their new American families.
This meant that in addition to punishing American families who were waiting for Russian children to join them, Putin was also punishing, and potentially killing, defenseless orphans in his own country. To say that this was a heartless proposal doesn’t even qualify as an understatement. It was evil, pure and simple.
So when you hear Putin and other top Russian officials now talk about the issue of “adoptions” you should understand that they mean “repeal of the Magnitsky Act.” As Julia Ioffe explained in The Atlantic:
Let’s get something straight: The Magnitsky Act is not, nor has it ever been, about adoptions.
The Magnitsky Act, rather, is about money. It freezes certain Russian officials’ access to the stashes they were keeping in Western banks and real estate and bans their entry to the United States. The reason Russian (and now, American) officials keep talking about adoption in the same breath is because of how the Russian side retaliated to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, namely by banning American adoptions of Russian children.
Ioffe is 100% correct. Bill Browder explained to Jacob Weisberg why this is so important to Putin:
BROWDER: Vladimir Putin has made it his single largest foreign policy priority to get rid of the Magnitsky Act. It is not a surprise at all given how much money has been spent and how many lobbyists and intermediaries are involved that they somehow found their way to Donald Trump, who at the time was the Republican nominee.
WEISBERG: Why is this bill such a priority for Putin?
BROWDER: Putin has amassed an enormous fortune over the 17 years that he’s been at the top of the heap in Russia, and the Magnitsky Act very specifically would target him. We have been able to track down information and evidence that shows that some of the proceeds from the crime—the $230 million fraud that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered, exposed, and was killed over—went to a man named Sergei Roldugin. (For those of you who remember the Panama Papers, he was the famous $2 billion cellist from Russia who got all this largesse from various oligarchs in Russian companies.)
Roldugin received some of the money from the Magnitsky crime, and it’s well-known that he is a nominee trustee for Putin. When Putin reacts to the Magnitsky Act with such personal venom, he’s reacting because he feels like the entire purpose in life, which was to steal money from the Russian state and keep it offshore, is at risk. That’s why they’re ready to ruin relations with America over the Magnitsky Act by banning adoptions and doing other things, and that’s why so much money has been spent fighting the act and fighting me, the person behind the campaign to get Magnitsky Act in the United States and around the world.
When you hear Vladimir Putin talk about adoption of Russian children, he is talking about getting the Magnitsky Act reversed. When you hear that Natalia Veselnitskaya was talking to Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner about adoption of Russian children, she was talking about getting the Magnitsky Act reversed. As Ioffe explains, the Magnitsky Act is a big deal for Russian kleptocrats because they can’t protect their money:
What made Russian officialdom so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was some kind of roadblock to getting stolen money to safety. In Russia, after all, officers and bureaucrats could steal it again, the same way they had stolen it in the first place: a raid, an extortion racket, a crooked court case with forged documents—the possibilities are endless. Protecting the money meant getting it out of Russia. But what happens if you get it out of Russia and it’s frozen by Western authorities? What’s the point of stealing all that money if you can’t enjoy the Miami condo it bought you? What’s the point if you can’t use it to travel to the Côte d’Azur in luxury?
Worse, it looked for a while like the Europeans were going to pass a similar law—because Russians stash far more money in Europe than in the United States.
By the way, when Ioffe says that Russians often keep their money in “Europe” — remember that one country that Russians love to use to stash illegal proceeds is Cyprus — the place Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov visited, as described in Part Two. Keep that in mind as you read tomorrow’s post, Part Five, in which I discuss Natalia Veselnitskaya, and her connections to the thieves who stole $230 million from the Russian government.
This is Part Four of a six-part series on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, what he uncovered before his death, and how it all relates to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian woman who met with Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner in June 2016. The springboard for the series of posts is this Michael Weiss article about Veselnitskaya and how she is connected to the Magnitsky case.
Part One introduced the series and Weiss’s conclusions.
Part Three outlined what Magnitsky did when he uncovered the scheme — and the terrible price he paid as a result.