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RIA Novosti: U.S. ‘Betrayed’ William Browder

Irina Alksnis

Irina Alksnis

Political analyst

“The U.S. has betrayed William Browder: a comedown for a pawn who imagined himself a queen”

Any temporary delay of Browder’s U.S. travel privileges was due to a loophole in an automated International law enforcement system, not a political act

On October 23, William Browder, the American-born British businessman and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is leading the international campaign for the Global Magnitsky Act, announced on Twitter that Russia had put his name on the Interpol’s most wanted list.

A short time later, Browder tweeted that the U.S. had “simultaneously” revoked his entry visa.

The Russian media practically exploded with triumphant headlines. The government-owned news agency RIA Novosti posted a total of seven articles on the topic in a single day, including a caricature of Browder with the caption “Siberia is calling.”

Speaking at the annual Valdai Club meeting in Sochi several days earlier, on October 19, Putin stated that the Ziff Brothers Investments LLC, which has invested with Browder, is “funding the Democratic Party, [and] the Republican [Party] in a much smaller volume.” Putin added: “They protect themselves that way.”

The Russian president also said that the Magnitsky Act is used to whip up “yet another anti-Russian hysteria.”

The Magnitsky Act is the U.S. law adopted in 2012 that imposed sanctions on Russian officials responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who worked for Browder before dying in a Moscow prison in 2009. The law is also used to impose sanctions on those responsible for other human rights abuses in Russia.

Two days after Putin's Valdai Club statement, on October 21, Russian media reported that Moscow had added Browder to Interpol’s most wanted list, triggering a Red Notice for his arrest.

Following reports of the U.S. visa revocation, Russian political analyst Irina Alsknis wrote in an op-ed for RIA Novosti that “the U.S. has betrayed Browder,” describing him as a “pawn who imagined himself a queen.”

Interpol, an international police organization with 192 member countries, describes its role as seeking “to enable police around the world to work together to make the world a safer place.”

Russia is a member of Interpol, with a Central Bureau in Moscow and 80 regional divisions across the country.

According to Article 1 (8) of the Interpol’s Rules on the Processing of Data, Russia, as a nation with a designated Interpol Central Bureau, is authorized to “directly provide data for processing purposes” in Interpol’s global system.

The Interpol system is organized in such a way that immediately after a person’s data is added to the wanted list, the “Red Notice” goes out to all Interpol member states, activating security procedures, including revocation of any existing visas.

Contrary to the Russian claims of a “U.S. betrayal,” the news that Browder’s U.S. visa had been revoked triggered a storm of statements from the top American politicians demanding that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security immediately rectify the issue.

“Bill Browder is a champion of anti-corruption in #Russia. DHS must immediately review decision to revoke his visa,” Senator John McCain wrote on Twitter.

That same day, October 23, Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin issued a joint statement.

“We understand that William Browder’s U.S. visa has been revoked due his inclusion on the Interpol list,” the statement read. “According to Browder, the Russian government has submitted his name for inclusion on the Interpol list on several occasions in the past, yet it was rejected as politically motivated. And through these episodes, his U.S. visa status has been immediately reinstated. The Department of Homeland Security should expedite an immediate review of the decision to revoke Mr. Browder’s visa.”

In a statement, the U.S. State Department indicated Browder’s eligibility to travel to the country falls under the Visa Waiver Program. The government said Browder’s application was made under the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization,” (ESTA). The U.S. DHS stated that when confronted with possible derogatory information, it conducts a “manual” review of the ESTA application.

“William Browder’s ESTA remains valid for travel to the United States,” DHS wrote. “His ESTA was manually approved by CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) on Oct. 18—clearing him for travel to the United States.” That is one day after media reports indicate Russia asked Interpol to put out a “Red Notice” on Browder.

“GREAT NEWS! My ESTA (US visa waiver) was restored. I successfully checked into a US flight. Now we need to fix bogus Interpol arrest warrant,” Browder tweeted from London on October 23.

As of October 24, Browder’s name was no longer listed among Interpol’s Red Notices.

Interpol Red Notice search for William Browder, screen grab 10/24/2017
Interpol Red Notice search for William Browder, screen grab 10/24/2017

According to Browder, this latest Red Notice was the fifth attempt by the Russian government to use Interpol to label him an international criminal. He linked Russia’s renewed efforts with Canada’s adoption of the Global Magnitsky Act last week.

There are currently 160 persons on Interpol’s list of most wanted criminals who were added by the Russian Federation.