Bill Browder, a billionaire hedge fund manager known for his full-throated criticism of the Kremlin’s human rights abuses, has had his U.S. visa restored after an initial ban triggered as a result of an INTERPOL red notice issued against him.
Browder, who traded his American citizenship for British citizenship to avoid paying US taxes on foreign investments, rose to prominence in 2008 when his Russian tax attorney and friend, Sergei Magnitsky, died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison just days after his scheduled release. In 2008, Magnitsky had uncovered and publicized a $230 million tax fraud scheme implicating the Russian government, and had been investigated and imprisoned by Russian authorities as a result. Following Magnitsky’s death, Browder initiated a campaign calling for the international community to punish Russian government officials linked to Magnitsky’s death.
Browder’s campaign proved largely successful. In 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions and asset freezes on at least 18 individuals implicated in Sergei Magnitsky’s death, as well as other human rights abuses. Russia responded to the legislation by banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
Interest in the Magnitisky Act resurfaced in recent weeks following revelations in July 2017 that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, during the elder Trump’s campaign. Trump Jr. has claimed that the meeting primarily concerned discussion of the Magnitsky Act, which Veselnitskaya had lobbied against in 2012.
In an interview with Newsweek, Browder said that he learned of the ban when the U.S. Department of Homeland security denied his application for an Electronic System Travel Authorization. According to statistics released by DHS, over 99% of all ESTA applications are approved within 5 seconds. Browser took to Twitter to voice his frustration on Saturday:
— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) October 22, 2017
Browder believes that the ban was triggered by an INTERPOL Red Notice issued against him at Russia’s request. INTERPOL’s infamous red notice “is the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to the Department of Justice’s U.S. Attorneys’ Manual. The Kremlin has attempted to use the international police agency’s red notice system to punish Browder four times before, but all prior attempts had been rejected by INTERPOL’s internal oversight body on the grounds that they were politically motivated.
The International Enforcement Law Reporter has covered the abuse of INTERPOL’s notice system in recent issues. For more analysis of the phenomenon, see “INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse: Which Member Countries are the Primary Offenders?” and “Mass Prosecutions and INTERPOL Red Notice Abuse,” both by Yuriy Nemets, in the International Enforcement Law Reporter.