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Putin’s nemesis Bill Browder calls on South Africans to push for a Magnitsky Act in the lead-up to 2024 elections

Putin’s nemesis Bill Browder calls on South Africans to push for a Magnitsky Act in the lead-up to 2024 elections
British American financier Bill Browder. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Vickie Flores)

Bill Browder, architect of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, called on South Africa to adopt a Magnitsky Act during his address at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four.

The US passed the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016, a piece of legislation that authorises the government to sanction foreign government officials worldwide who are human rights offenders, as well as freezing their assets and banning them from entering the US. Since then, more than 30 countries have adopted some form of Magnitsky mechanism. South Africa is not one of them.

In his video address at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four, architect of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign Bill Browder expressed his hope that South Africa would come to adopt a Magnitsky Act in the near future.

“I understand that there’s an election coming up in South Africa. I understand that there are political candidates and other people politically connected in the audience today. And so my message to you, my main message to you, is that South Africa should have a Magnitsky Act,” he said.

Browder is the CEO and cofounder of Hermitage Capital Management, and the bestselling author of two books, Red Notice and Freezing Order. He is also a major long-time critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It all started when Putin and his regime murdered my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, in Russian police custody. Sergei had uncovered and exposed a $230-million Russian government corruption scheme. In retaliation, he was arrested, tortured for 358 days and killed at the age of 37 on November 16 2009,” Browder said.

“Since his murder, I have taken up his cause to fight for justice and that cause has led to something which has turned out to be far bigger than anything I could ever have imagined.”

Upon realising that there was no possibility of getting justice for Magnitsky’s death inside Russia, Browder looked for other justice mechanisms he could turn to and found that none existed.

Bill Browder

Bill Browder speaks at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

“I said to myself, that’s just unreasonable. I can’t live in a world like that. And so I came up with an idea, which was that the people that killed Sergei Magnitsky killed him for $230-million. And the people who get that money don’t keep that money in Russia. They keep that money elsewhere, in attractive places – in the south of France, they buy properties; in Aspen, they get ski chalets.

“We may not be able to prosecute them for torture and murder in America or France or the UK. But we can absolutely freeze those assets that they have in the West and we can prevent their travel. And that idea became known as the Magnitsky Act.”

The first Magnitsky Act passed in the US Senate in November 2012, and later passed in the House of Representatives with 89% on 14 December 2012, becoming a federal law in the US, he continued. The initial act was intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Magnitsky.

“Putin went out of his mind. Putin retaliated by banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American families. He made it his single-largest foreign policy priority to repeal the Magnitsky Act, and then he started going after me with death threats, kidnapping threats. I’ve been the subject of eight Interpol arrest warrants, extradition requests from the UK where I live,” said Browder.

The introduction of the Global Magnitsky Act in the US a few years later expanded the legislation to encompass human rights offenders worldwide. This legislation has since been replicated in countries across the globe.

Browder noted that there were some people in the South African government who were “chummy with Putin and with Russia”, a political position he described as “shameful”.

“My hope is that chumminess, that friendliness, stops. And that the politicians who are sitting here today will push forward on something which will be good for South Africa, bad for Russia and, of course, bad for other corrupt kleptocrats and dictators from around the world,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Non-alignment’ is not a real ANC policy, just a useful tool

Read more in Daily Maverick: Untangling the narrative web surrounding South Africa’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict

The South African government has attracted widespread criticism for its “non-aligned” stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has never condemned Russia or Putin for the aggression and has abstained from all the resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly which did condemn them.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2024

‘A global effort to promote accountability’

Daily Maverick editor Branko Brkic highlighted that in those countries that have adopted the Magnitsky law, the executive authorities have the authority to impose sanctions based on credible information, enabling a swift response to proven human rights abuses and corruption anywhere in the world. The executive must also provide full transparency in their actions. 

“None of these points violates any of the tenets of the South African Constitution – quite the opposite. It speaks of a global effort to promote accountability and close avenues for human rights abuse, money laundering and influence peddling. The Global Magnitsky Act is the strongest tool anywhere that can help promote human rights and fight corruption. So, why would the South African government not actively promote and ask our Parliament to pass it with great haste?” he said.

South Africa is currently greylisted in the global financial system because of problems with access to accurate beneficial ownership information; increasing law enforcement use of financial intelligence; inadequate investigations and prosecutions of money laundering and terrorism financing; low-quality asset recovery efforts; inaccurate terrorism financing risk assessment; and the effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions, among other issues. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

Brkic continued: “These are most of the issues covered by the Magnitsky Act. By early 2025, the South African government must fix all these problems to do with greylisting or else. We all seem to want to live in a better country governed by a competent, responsible and accountable state. How about we actually prove that commitment by officially passing the Global Magnitsky Act? What is stopping us? What are we afraid of?” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Without any doubt, it is the right and honourable Act to implement, but it will not happen – not with this criminal, corrupt and rotten to the core anc. They are in the evil Putin’s pocket. He funds them, he keeps them alive and in prosperity. They idolize a mass-murdering monster and already SA is run much like Putin’s kleptocratic Russia where they, the elite and cadres, aka oligarchs, steal the country blind. They subserviently and sickeningly kowtow to him as typical master and servant. Only when this despicable cabal is no more, will SA reset and hopefully adopt this Act.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    “What is stopping us? What are we afraid of?” What’s stopping us is what we are afraid of. South Africa is afraid of having to freeze assets of buddies, ban buddies from coming here, and, worst of all, face reciprocal Magnitsky asset seizures and travel bans themselves …

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Rod, Brother is missing one thing that the magnitsky act was well adopted and driven in America and the world under certain leaders at that time, the culprits were always known, but when Trump started even imagining that Kim and Putin were his friends countries realized the risk of aligning with America.
      The Ukraine war could have been avoided by Biden, with the influence he has in NATO he should have agreed to Putin’s concerns with conditions that Ukraine will never join NATO but rules will be implemented that if Putin or anyone allied to him does 123 Ukraine will immediately join NATO and all forces will join with all resources, more so because Putin can never be defeated by Ukraine on controlled donated weapons, he builds all types of weapons and he has no red lines.
      South Africa has not entered this war by taking sides but is being taken advantage of by people looking for someone to blame for their failures.
      Turkey enjoys a good relationship with both Russia and Ukraine and is still a member of NATO, they just know when to say yes and No.
      South Africa must be firm in what aligns with institutions that are not controlled by biased countries and will not leave the country open to abuse like we see in the ICJ response.

  • Ari Potah says:

    My take on this is somewhat different, having read “The Killing of Bill Browder” by Alex Krainer, Browder is a manipulator and money launderer of note. Just for starters, Sergei Magnitsky was not a lawyer – he was a bookkeeper.
    Bill Browder, the false crusader for justice and human rights and the self-proclaimed No. 1 enemy of Vladimir Putin has perpetrated a brazen and dangerous deception upon the Western world. Mr. Browder uses all of the smarmy language, demonization and flat out lies, the aims of which are destabilization, chaos, mayhem and “regime change” in Russia. The extent to which intelligent people fall for Browder tales uncritically is astounding.
    Browder has been squashing any dissenting voices to his narrative: “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes” a documentary by Andrei Nekrasov has not been shown because the Browder lawyers attacked everybody involved in trying show it.
    Browder’s carefully cultivated and paid for image in the West (he was planning a movie about himself with the Weinstein brothers) is so at odds with the reality exposed in “The Killing of Bill Browder” by Alex Krainer as to make up a kind of horror story effect out of Bram Stoker. The thing is, no one else has looked at Browder’s story critically. It was accepted as fact, with no corroboration of any sort, by a gullible, and probably complicit, US political establishment.
    Read the book – if you can find it. It is banned on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble without any due process.

    • Oh No says:

      Let’s not skew the point. This is a good Act for Accountability for misuse of power and money. All countries should adopt it. You can google the books, they are for sale on various sites. Sergei was a Tax Consultant, he represented his clients in a Court of Law.

    • Richard Bryant says:

      Well if you’re right, then there are a couple of undisputed facts which make your version quite unbelievable. One, somehow he managed to fool 88% of USA lawmakers in the House and Senate. Which seems very unlikely. Two, it is undisputed that Magnitsky died at a young age in a russian prison. Not from natural causes. Three, at the fall of communism, nobody in russia owned anything. But 20 years later, virtually every asset in russia was in the hands of a very small group of oligarchs with Putin the main beneficiary. Not from hard work surely!

      And somehow, according to Alex Krainer, Bill Browder is the bad guy!!! You’ll need a bit more than that to convince me that putin is the victim.

  • Ahmed Motala says:

    The MagnitskyAct is good Legislation if applied objectively, without fear or favour. While the US & other western countries have imposed sanctions, frozen bank accounts & seized assets of human rights violators from various countries, Israel has always been exempt. Even after the provisional ruling of the ICJ, the countries with the Magnitsky Act have failed to act against Israeli leaders committing genocide and making public statements advocating genocide.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    So Ari- you belittle Browder but not one word of condemnation of Putin for all the murders and killings perpetuated by him and his henchmen. I suppose in your book, all the journalists, opposition figures etc murdered is also fake. Whether Magnitsky was a lawyer or bookkeeper is completely irrelevant- the point is he was murdered by the evil Putin monster as he dared to expose the crimes and corruption committed by him and his toadies. The fact that Browder’s life is at risk, must also be fake in your book. Pathetic to say the least.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Does the Magnitsky Act apply to Israel? Very hypocritical if it doesn’t.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Virginia – what about the evil Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad etc. All bestial and vicious murderers like the odious Putin. There could have been peace between Israel and the Palestinians if it wasn’t for the the deranged fanatics whose only mission in life is to obliterate Israel and Jews. Whilst Netanyahu may be an obstacle to peace, peaceful settlements were offered by Labour governments as well. All spurned rejected out of hand.

    • Ahmed Motala says:

      The oppression in Palestine commenced with the Nakhba 75 years ago, not last October. Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who genuinely wanted to achieve a two-state solution was murdered by a Jewish Israeli fanatic to prevent him achieving peace. This murderer is lauded by many in the current Israeli government. Netanyahu has completely rejected a two state solution & is fully supported by racist, right wing members of his g9vernment. Factually correct history (not that fabricated by Zionists) show that Israeli leaders, current & past, have been the real obstacles to peace. They want the whole of Palestine – from the river to the sea. They have chosen the path of war, repeatedly killing & maiming civilians, destroying property & continuing to steal Palestinian land – even as I write this. Not only on Gaza but also in occupied Jerusalem & the West Bank.

    • virginia crawford says:

      Please include those fanatical settlers in your list of baddies. A wall around Gaza and a land grab every where does not sound like a recipe for peace. I use my name: please call me Ms Crawford since we are not acquainted. Shall I call you Fed or Mr. Up?

    • virginia crawford says:

      You use my name, but do not reveal yours: what does that say about you?

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