20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Russian authorities have requested an Interpol Red Notice against William Browder, head of the Hermitage Capital Management investment fund and a key architect of the Magnitsky Act. Author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek notes that Interpol has a history of honoring the Kremlin’s politically motivated requests.


William Browder


At the end of April, Moscow’s Tverskoy District Court issued an arrest warrant in absentia for British citizen William Browder.  The Russian justice system is accusing him and the late Sergei Magnitsky of purchasing Gazprom shares between 1999 and 2004.  Browder could only be arrested in absentia because he is not willing to appear in the Tverskoy District Court, rightly believing that "justice" there is nothing but fiction. Sergei Magnitsky is not in the courtroom either. In 2009, he was killed in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison to prevent him from publicly exposing the crimes of a gang of police investigators and tax officials.

According to a statement by the Russian Interior Ministry, Browder "acquired more than 130 million Gazprom shares worth at least 2 billion Rubles at domestic-market prices, which caused large-scale damages to the Russian Federation." The nature of the crime is unclear. The point is that at the time it was forbidden for foreign investors to buy Gazprom shares on the market.  On Browder's initiative, Russian citizens and Russian legal entities founded dozens of companies, which then purchased Gazprom shares (for the market price) and waited for the day when they would be able to sell them for a higher price on the international market.  This is a normal speculation, with its risks and its investments. There is nothing illegal here. Apart from an understandable resentment of someone who bought something cheaply and intends to sell it at a higher price, there is nothing objectionable in these actions.  According to the Russian "justice" system, however, this is a crime.

Russian officials think that if Magnitsky's guilt is proven, his murder in prison will somehow be justified.

The case does not have any prospects in court. It will be impossible to carry out the sentence. Magnitsky is dead, and Browder is beyond the reach of Russia’s authorities. The fact that a dead man is being tried posthumously makes the trial not only pointless but also immoral. Nevertheless, the regime decided to take this shameful step, and the reason is clear. The international scandal that resulted from Sergei Magnitsky’s death, and US sanctions that followed with regard to those connected with this crime motivate the Kremlin to prove its innocence by accusing the deceased of committing a crime, along with his colleague William Browder.

The salutary idea that the regime's evident guilt in the death of Magnitsky can be neutralized by the alleged guilt of the deceased in a criminal offense lives only in the minds of Russian officials. Having been brought up in the Soviet tradition of “socialist legality,” they think that if Magnitsky's guilt is proven, his murder in prison will somehow be justified. They are thus going out of their way to imitate justice by bringing a grotesque lawsuit against two defendants in absentia.

Russia’s judicial branch lacks the resources to maintain an illusion of seriousness of these proceedings, and so it has decided to seek international help.  With this in view, the request to search for and detain William Browder was sent to Interpol.

It must be said that the Russian authorities are rather experienced in this area. They have managed on several occasions to involve the international criminal police in persecuting their political opponents or victims of state abuse.  Interpol has honored Moscow’s search warrants for Vladimir Gusinsky, Leonid Nevzlin, Akhmed Zakayev, Boris Berezovsky and Yuli Dubov. For a short period of time, Berezovsky and Dubov were even detained by the London police. However, this procedure has never brought real success to the Russian government, since no political figures were extradited to Russia with Interpol’s help. Moscow has expressed its sadness over this: "Unfortunately, in recent years Interpol has faced a problem of double standards. Let us say that one country considers a person a criminal. Another country, however, uses this as a pretext not to extradite this person to the country that demands extradition.  Besides, some international conventions are being used as cover—in particular, the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, based on which a person can be granted political refugee status and not extradited," Timur Lakhonin, head of Russia's Interpol Bureau, lamented in 2006.

It is unlikely that the Russian authorities hoped for a real success—that is, that Interpol would believe the criminal charges in the politically motivated cases and would deliver the people involved in major political scandals to Russia on a silver platter.  But the very fact that Interpol had accepted Russia’s politically motivated arrest warrants was enough for the Kremlin to go ahead with its rowdy propaganda campaign.



Meanwhile, Interpol rules directly forbid the organization to interfere in cases of political, military, religious or racial nature. Rules may be rules, but police solidarity sometimes proves to be stronger, and the Kremlin's wanted political opponents end up on Interpol’s list. Interpol's leniency with regard to police honesty is not today's news.  Such are the organization’s traditions, and one should look for their source in the history of Interpol, which, counting by the number of member-states (190), is the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the UN. Suffice to say that for a period in its history Interpol was headed by high-ranking Nazis, one of whom was sentenced to death at the Nuremburg Trials and was executed for his crimes.

Interpol’s history began in 1914, when the First International Congress of Criminal Police was held in Monaco with the active participation of Prince Albert I (not to be confused with his descendant, Prince Albert II of Monaco, who found himself in the midst of a corruption scandal involving Vladimir Putin and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics). Policemen from 14 countries, including Russia, participated in the First Congress. A decision was made to create an international commission of criminal police, but the First World War prevented this idea from being realized. The commission was finally founded in 1923 at the Second International Congress of Criminal Police in Vienna.  At that meeting, it was decided that the commission would only fight conventional crime.

SS General Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office, served as president of Interpol between 1940 and 1942. He was one of the chief architects of "the final solution of the Jewish question," but fortunately did not manage to solve it, because in June 1942 he was killed in Prague by Resistance fighters Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš.

Heydrich was replaced as Interpol president by SS Lieutenant General Arthur Nebe, chief of the Reich criminal police.  Later, in 1944, he was involved in a plot to kill Hitler, and was executed in March 1945. Before that, however, he served as the commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B, which was responsible for the mass killings of Gypsies and Jews in Belarus.

Rules may be rules, but police solidarity sometimes proves to be stronger, and the Kremlin's wanted political opponents end up on Interpol’s list.

Nebe remained president of Interpol until 1943, when he was succeeded by SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the Reich Main Security Office. At the end of the Second World War, Kaltenbrunner was arrested by the US military in Austria, which put an end to his career as a war criminal and Interpol president. In the autumn of 1946, he was sentenced to death for his numerous crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg Trials and was hanged.

It is not known what the international criminal police was doing during the Second World War—probably nothing. Despite the fact that the organization had been led by high-ranking Nazis, it was not dissolved after the war. In 1946, its headquarters were moved from Berlin to Paris. In 1956, a new charter was adopted, and the old name (the International Commission on Organized Crime) was replaced by a new one—the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol. In 1990, the Soviet Union joined Interpol.

It is likely that most of Interpol's current employees are honest professionals who are not interested in international political intrigues.  There may be honest policemen in Russia, too—it would be great if they did not let the police get involved in political games that use criminal sentences, including the case of William Browder. Then the sword on Interpol’s emblem, which runs through the globe from the North Pole to the South Pole, will protect people from crime instead of serving the whims of criminally minded political schemers.