The Trump-Russia Web – Part 10: Glenn Simpson and the Prevezon Case

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 10: Glenn Simpson and the Prevezon Case

Glenn Simpson and the Prevezon Case


Disclaimer: This is an in-depth look at the Prevezon-related parts of Glenn Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017 and before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017. The information below was presented by Glenn Simpson in his testimony, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Glenn Simpson states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Simpson_Glenn-CROP
Glenn Simpson (Photo: ABC News)

What is the narrative that Glenn Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee about his Prevezon work?

(Full Transcript of 10-Hour Testimony – 312 pages)

Natalia Veselnitskaya is the attorney for Cyprus-based investment company Prevezon Holdings. She is also the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower.

[In 2013], Veselnitskaya hired U.S. law firm Baker Hostetler to help defend Prevezon against charges by the U.S. Department of Justice that Prevezon had been engaged in money laundering in the United States. Baker Hostetler hired Glenn Simpson’s firm, Fusion GPS, for research to help support Prevezon’s case. Fusion’s involvement in the case was directed by Baker attorney/partner Mark Cymrot.

Baker Hostetler is a well-regarded conservative law firm. They have a legal obligation to research who their clients are to ensure that the firm is not accepting payments from a foreign government. Simpson therefore assumed that Baker had done the work to make that determination before Fusion was brought into the case.

Payment of Baker Hostetler in the case was made by Prevezon, and was directed by Veselnitskaya. Baker Hostetler in turn paid Fusion. There were no direct payments to Fusion by either Prevezon or Veselnitskaya. To assist in gathering Russian language documents and locating witnesses, Fusion hired Edward Baumgartner, a Russian-speaking consultant. Baumgartner would later work on the Trump investigation for Fusion after the Prevezon case ended.

According to Prevezon, the money laundering allegations against them originated from a high-level Russian organized crime figure, Demetri Baranovsky, who had been posing as an anti-corruption campaigner in Russia and blackmailing various Russian companies. Baranovsky had threatened to expose Prevezon for money laundering. Prevezon had notified the Russian authorities of the threat, and Baranovsky was prosecuted and jailed for blackmail.

Veselnitskaya had been Prevezon’s lawyer in that case and had detailed knowledge of it. Baranovsky’s money laundering allegations against Prevezon were brought to the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice by investment manager William Browder. Glenn Simpson had met Browder years earlier as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. At that time, Browder had spoken highly of Putin, and insisted that Putin was not corrupt at all – an opinion which Browder had thoroughly reversed by the time that he had contacted the DOJ about Prevezon. The DOJ investigated Browder’s allegations against Prevezon, and took the issue to trial.

Through its research for Baker Hostetler, Fusion GPS determined that Baranovsky had in fact been jailed for blackmailing. When Fusion attempted to interview Browder about the allegations, Browder refused. Baker Hostetler tried to subpoena him, but Browder denied having any presence in the U.S., and therefore claimed not to be legally obligated to respond to a subpoena. It seemed odd to Simpson that Browder would feel strongly enough about Prevezon to tip off the DOJ, but would be unwilling to testify to any of his accusations under oath. Fusion also gradually found Browder’s dealings in Russia to raise an increasing number of questions.

Fusion began researching Browder to help Baker Hostetler compel him to testify under oath in court about his role in the case. In 2014, Fusion determined that Browder’s hedge fund, the Hermitage Fund, was registered in Delaware, proving that he did in fact have a U.S. presence. Shortly after Fusion made this discovery, Browder took his name off the registration, claiming that it had been there by mistake.

Browder also claimed to own no property in the U.S., but Fusion discovered that Browder had a $10 million mansion in Aspen, Colorado, registered under the name of a shell company. Browder also owned vehicles registered at that Aspen address under his own name.

When Simpson learned that Browder would be speaking at the Aspen Institute in the summer of 2014, Fusion saw it as an opportunity to serve him with a subpoena. They hired two subcontractors to serve the subpoena in the Aspen Institute parking lot. Browder refused the subpoena, ran back to his car, and drove back to his mansion. Browder later said that the subpoena had been improperly served because he had nothing to do with the United States, and the subpoena was also improper because it was for a case in New York, but had been served in Colorado. Browder also stated that he had thought that the two men approaching him to serve the subpoena were KGB assassins coming after him.

Fusion continued its research into public records on Browder and learned that he had a number of shell companies in Cyprus and other tax havens around the world. Simpson believed that Browder was using these shell companies to channel money into Russia and to hold Russian securities. When the Panama Papers came out in 2015, Fusion also learned that in 1995, Browder had incorporated an offshore shell company in the British Virgin Islands, and had later transferred the shares from the Hermitage Fund to this shell company.

According to Simpson, “one of Putin’s primary rules for business was you can do a lot of things, but you’ve got to pay your taxes.” Simpson believes that Browder’s tax evasion in Russia was how Browder began to fall out of favor with Putin. Putin’s government prosecuted some of Browder’s shell companies and forced Browder to make a massive tax payment in 2006 [in the amount of $230 million].

During the course of Fusion’s investigation in the Prevezon case, Fusion GPS and Baker Hostetler shared information back and forth, with Baker being the central repository for information. Simpson trusted the integrity of the information that he received from Baker, due to the quality of their information on past projects. Fusion did not do any research to verify the information from Baker because “that would have been an enormous task and it would have made no sense,” since Baker was the client for whom Fusion was gathering and researching information. [Note: this means that it is possible that some of Baker’s info came from Prevezon or from Veselnitskaya without being verified.]

Baker Hostetler directed Fusion to be available as an information source to answer reporters’ questions and to actively contact the press to encourage coverage of the Prevezon case. Simpson recalled providing information to Bloomberg, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Legal 360, Financial Times, NBC, and probably Reuters, Politico, and New Republic.

William Browder turned out to be an “especially aggressive media self-promoter and promoter of his story,” so most of Fusion’s interactions with the press were reactive – responding to news outlets pursuing negative stories about Prevezon based on the story that Browder had already told the press: “a lot of what we were doing was simply responding to his wild allegations, unsupported wild allegations.” Simpson would raise questions about Browder’s credibility, pointing out to reporters that Browder was unwilling to testify to his statements in court under oath, and that he ran whenever Fusion tried to subpoena him.

Simpson peripherally knew Rinat Akhmetshin (former Russian intelligence officer, now an American lobbyist hired by Natalia Veselnitskaya to help persuade Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act). Simpson had originally met Akhmetshin years earlier while working at the Wall Street Journal covering some stories about Kazakhstan. Akhmetshin had mentioned at that time that he had had a low level position in Russian intelligence, but Simpson was not aware of any current connections between Akhmetshin and Russian intelligence or the Russian government. In light of recent new reports, Simpson is interested to know if Akhmetshin is connected to the Russian government. Simpson was aware that Akhmetshin periodically still went to Moscow.

Akhmetshin had never hired Fusion or vice versa. Akhmetshin attended a handful of the Prevezon meetings at Baker Hostetler, but Simpson was unclear on what his role was. Baker directed Fusion to pass some of its research on to Akhmetshin, and that information was likely used in turn to help Akhmetshin in his anti-Magnitsky lobbying efforts for Veselnitskaya through her organization, HRAGI.

Ed Lieberman, an attorney specializing in international taxes, was hired by Baker Hostetler to look into tax evasion issues by William Browder and Hermitage Capital. Simpson believed that Lieberman had known Rinat Akhmetshin from college. Lieberman was now also working with Akhmetshin to lobby Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Simpson was not aware of any ties between Lieberman and the Russian government.

During the course of the case, Simpson met Veselnitskaya several times. Initially, he communicated with her through Baker Hostetler about Prevezon’s extortion case against Baranovsky. Baker attorney Mark Cymrot had mentioned to Simpson that Veselnitskaya had been a prosecutor in Russia Simpson had no knowledge of her possibly being an agent for the government of Russia or Russian intelligence.

After the initial communications, Simpson saw Veselnitskaya in courtrooms and at a small handful of dinners, most of which were organized by Cymrot. Simpson spoke very little with Veselnitskaya beyond simple cordialities, because she does not speak English and he does not speak Russian.

One of the dinners was in New York on June 8, 2016, and was a dinner for people working on the Prevezon case. Veselnitskaya was at that dinner. Baker attorney John Moscow may have been there as well.

The next day, June 9, Simpson attended a court hearing in the Prevezon case. Veselnitskaya was there, possibly with Rinat Akhmetshin and translator Anatoli Samochornov. After the hearing, Simpson met with some PR people from Weber Shandwick, and then went home to his family.

[That same day, June 9, Veselnitskaya, Akhmetshin, Samochornov and others met at Trump Tower in New York with Trump Jr., Manfort and Kushner. The stated purpose of that meeting had been to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. According to Trump Jr., Veselnitskaya just wanted to talk about Russian orphans. Simpson had no awareness of that meeting at the time.]

On June 10, Mark Cymrot held a social dinner at Barcelona restaurant in Washington DC for a group of his friends. Simpson and his wife attended the dinner, and Veselnitskaya was there as well. Simpson was sitting at the opposite end of the table from Veselnitskaya, and there was “not a lot of chit-chat” between them due to the language barrier and physical distance.

After news of the Trump Tower meeting broke in the New York Times, Simpson spoke with others working on the Prevezon case (not Veselnitskaya or Akhmetshin), including Mark Cymrot, Ed Baumgartner, and Baker attorney Paul Levine, and they too were very surprised about the Trump Tower meeting. Simpson wondered if some of the information shared there had been information that he had gathered for the Prevezon case.

Simpson’s perception of Veselnitskaya was that she was “a very smart and ambitious lawyer, but not like a big political player in the Kremlin.” He recalled her regularly having problems with her visa being accepted to get into the United States.

Simpson recalls meeting Denis Katsyv, the owner of Prevezon, at a handful of meetings or client dinners, but they did not speak much – again due to the language barrier. Prevezon was described to Simpson as Baker Hostetler’s client, and Denis was introduced as Prevezon’s owner. Cymrot told Simpson that Baker had already looked into Katsyv and determined that he was a legitimate businessman who invested in real estate. Simpson accepted this assessment as credible due to the reputation of Baker Hostetler and his past dealings with them. Simpson never met Denis’s father, Pyotr, a Russian government official, and did not know about him until Fusion had to start responding to Browder’s accusations.

Simpson acknowledged knowing Chris Cooper, a public relations person [at the Potomac Square Group] who used to work at the Wall Street Journal. Simpson would occasionally refer PR work to Cooper, and encouraged Baker Hostetler to hire him to do PR work for Prevezon during the money laundering trial.

Cooper created what Browder alleges is a “fake documentary” about Browder and Magnitsky. When Cooper sought to screen the film, Browder hired an aggressive attorney and threatened a libel lawsuit against anyone offering to show the film. Newseum – a Washington DC museum dedicated to journalism and the First Amendment – was not intimidated by Browder and showed the film on June 13, 2016, just days after Veselnitskaya’s meeting at Trump Tower.

Simpson was unclear whether Prevezon or HRAGI was behind the showing, but Fusion GPS provided names of journalists and others to be added to the invitation list, and Simpson may have personally invited some journalists as well, because the film questioned Browder’s credibility, and Browder’s media efforts had been hampering Fusion in their work for Baker on the Prevezon case.

Simpson stated that he was only peripherally involved with HRAGI and did not recall any interactions with the organization. Simpson acknowledged knowing and having lunch once with Lanny Wiles, a well-connected Republican consultant and lobbyist who may have been working for Prevezon or HRAGI.

Simpson was only vaguely aware of HRAGI’s lobbying efforts. He did recall Akhmetshin or Cymrot mentioning a meeting with Paul Behrends, a Congressional aide to U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). [Rohrabacher has been an outspoken defender of Russia and a loyal Trump ally, and Behrends, the main contact on Capitol Hill for Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin, has an interesting history in Washington DC: in a matter of just a couple years, Behrends went from being a fierce hawk against Russia to being a cheerleader for them] [Politico]. There was also e-mail evidence of a meeting with U.S. Representative French Hill (R-AR). Simpson did not believe that HRAGI or Prevezon were connected with the Russian government.

Simpson did not personally know Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, or Rob Goldstone, although he knew who they were. [Goldstone arranged and attended the Trump Tower meeting, allegedly prompted by the Agalarovs] Neither Simpson nor Fusion had ever paid or been paid by any of them, and Simpson did not believe that any of them were working with Prevezon.

Since the election, there have been attempts to hack into Fusion GPS’s communications system. Simpson’s attorney Levy, present with Simpson during his testimony, stated that Fusion has received death threats. When Simpson was asked a question about his sources, Levy said that “Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.”

Simpson was asked a number of questions pertaining to names of his clients, communications with his clients, and naming sources of information – topics which the Senate Judiciary Committee had apparently agreed in advance not to go into. At the advice of his attorney, Simpson declined to answer those questions.


What did Glenn Simpson tell the House Intelligence Committee about the Prevezon case that he did not already say in his Senate testimony?

 (Full Transcript of 6-Hour Testimony – 165 pages)

Baker Hostetler is one of Fusion GPS’s oldest clients. Fusion has done 4-5 projects for them. Simpson describes them as a Republican-oriented law firm of “very serious, sober, reputable attorneys.”

Regarding the Prevezon case, Baker approached Fusion in late 2013 to determine whether it was provable that money from a specific fraud in Russia had gone into some specific real estate projects in New York. Baker attorney John Moscow led Simpson through the financial information of the case, and persuaded Simpson that the money trail between the Russian fraud and New York properties was not clear. Baker retained Fusion in early 2014.

The first thing that Fusion did was to investigate Prevezon. Natalia Veselnitskaya was introduced to Simpson in mid-2014 as a former Russian government lawyer who had retained Baker on behalf of Prevezon. She had told Baker Prevezon’s story about being blackmailed by Russian organized crime figure Baranovsky, who had been jailed for extortion. Baker passed Veselnitskaya’s story to Fusion. Fusion checked the story out, and it appeared to be true.

Fusion then wondered how allegations from a jailed criminal in Russia had gotten to the U.S. Department of Justice. Baker subpoenaed an ICE agent who informed them that they had gotten the information from William Browder.

In addition to Browder’s mansion in Aspen, Colorado, Fusion also uncovered that he had a house in New Jersey. In addition to trying to serve Browder with a subpoena in Colorado, Fusion tried to serve him another time, and then again in New York outside the Daily Show. That attempt at a subpoena was videotaped, and Browder ran down the street without taking the paper.

Simpson’s House testimony contained a few miscellaneous details elaborating on his previous Senate testimony:

  • Ed Baumgartner, who worked on both the Prevezon case and the Trump project, traveled to Russia with the lawyers as part of his work on the Prevezon case. Simpson did not go to Russia.
  • In researching Denis Katsyv for the Prevezon case, Simpson did not find Katsyv to “have a media profile of an oligarch” – no mafia connections, no meetings with Putin, no denial of visas to the U.S. However, Denis’s father, Pyotr Katsyv, is a Russia government official.
  • Browder’s shell companies based in Cyprus likely included Giggs Enterprises Limited, Zhoda Limited, and Peninsular Heights Limited.
  • The Russians regularly do fake news stories on Browder and have even done a documentary accusing him of murder.
  • At the Prevezon hearing on June 9, 2016, the day of the Trump Tower meeting, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued on behalf of Prevezon as their appellate lawyer.

Much of the House Intelligence Committee’s Prevezon-related questioning focused on three things: the period around the time of the Trump Tower meeting, specific information from Simpson’s Prevezon research, and the flow of that information.

According to one of Simpson’s House Intelligence Committee questioners, when Veselnitskaya was at the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, she presented information about William Browder and the Magnitsky Act. Simpson had read news accounts of that.

Regarding Simpson’s own activities on June 9, after attending the Prevezon hearing (where Veselnitskaya was present), Simpson met with Shandwick public relations “at a hotel somewhere” to explore having them do PR work for the Prevezon case.

The next time that Simpson saw Veselnitskaya was at the dinner in Washington DC organized byBaker attorney Mark Cymrot. During this second testimony, Simpson could not recall if the dinner was on June 10 or 11.

Committee questioners showed Simpson an October 27, 2017 New York Times article, “Talking Points Brought to Trump Tower Meeting Were Shared With Kremlin” [New York Times] as well as a memo from the office of Yuri Chaika, Russia’s Prosecutor General. According to the Times article, Veselnitskaya’s Trump Tower talking points largely matched the memo from Yuri Chaika – in some cases paragraph for paragraph.

[The e-mail to Trump Jr. that sparked the Trump Tower meeting had promised information on Clinton from the “Crown Prosecutor of Russia.” Journalists and others had initially interpreted this to be an exaggerated/inaccurate description of Veselnitskaya, but it was more likely referring to Chaika.]

[Veselnitskaya’s talking points (New York Times) focused on Browder and the Magnitsky Act, but also included allegations that two major Democratic donors – New York billionaires the Ziff brothers – had committed fraud and tax evasion by illegally investing through William Browder’s company and not paying taxes (amounting to millions of dollars) to Russia on the investment. Putin claimed that the U.S. government was ignoring these allegations against the Ziff Brothers because they were major political donors. Veselnitskaya asserted that the alleged tax evasion tainted any potential donations to Clinton from the Ziff brothers. This was her “dirt” on Clinton.]

[Chaika’s memo had been given to pro-Russia U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) during an American Congressional delegation to Moscow in April 2016. Veselnitskaya and Chaika were known to have communicated in the months before the June 9th Trump Tower meeting, and worked together to provide the info on Browder and the Ziff brothers to Rohrabacher. Veselnitskaya later got the same info to U.S. Representative French Hill (R-AR). Veselnitskaya then asked Aras Agalarov to help her set up the meeting at Trump Tower to present the information.]

Simpson’s research on Browder had also included information on the Ziff brothers. Baker Hostetler would have given that information to Veselnitskaya for the Prevezon case.

Simpson did not believe that Veselnitskaya was sharing that information with the Kremlin or acting on behalf of the Russian government. Simpson did not recall if she had ever told him that she knew Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, but she “may have alluded at times to giving information to the [Russian] government for purposes of tax law enforcement” to recover unpaid taxes.

Simpson acknowledged that, because Browder was antagonistic toward both Prevezon and Putin, Putin would likely have been more supportive of Prevezon’s side in the Prevezon case.

As an explanation for how Fusion’s research ended up being used in the Trump Tower meeting, Simpson said:

“In retrospect, I think what might have happened was that – so when the case started it wasn’t about William Browder. It was about a technical argument about whether you could prove that money from something in Russia went into this real estate development. And so it didn’t have a political dimension to me particularly, it was a technical argument. And that is how the case was introduced to me, and the fight was going to be over what the bank records showed.

“So it was a reasonably interesting case, but not very potentially controversial. But as we went into discovery, you know, the discovery trail led to Vladimir Putin’s biggest critic [William Browder].” [This ultimately resulted in Simpson doing work that could be repurposed to oppose the Magnitsky Act.]

“My view is that when we started producing actual information in court that was embarrassing to [Browder], and tended to raise questions about [Browder’s] activities in Russia, that [Veselnitskaya and ultimately Chaika and Putin] opportunistically began to exploit that.

“And that would fit with my view of Ms. Veselnitskaya as well, which is that she viewed the success that we had in finding certain kinds of information as a ticket to political advancement in Moscow. There is only one way up in Russia, and that is to do something that impresses Vladimir Putin.” Developing a relationship with a potential President of the United States would also be a way to impress Putin.”

Simpson was proud of the information that he had gathered in the Prevezon case, but disagreed with the pro-Putin slant that Veselnitskaya added to it in her Trump Tower talking points.

Asked if it bothered him that the information from his research had been used in what he himself at one point in his testimony had described as a Russian Government-directed operation, Simpson stated:

“It all happens to be accurate. And so, you know, if someone used this research that they, you know, commissioned through a law firm for a legitimate legal purpose, took it and repurposed it in some other way, I can’t say as I am upset by that. I must say in my business, right, I am in the information business, so when people commission research from you, it becomes their property when you are finished with the research, when you give it to them. So if they decide to go and use it for something else, I mean, that’s just beyond my control. So I will add that, you know, as someone who is not a fan of Vladimir Putin, I don’t take any great – I certainly am not happy to do anything that anyone would think was helping Vladimir Putin. And so to the extent that this has subjected me to an unfair accusation that I was engaged in some kind of Kremlin operation, I find that very regrettable.”


Analysis

Simpson’s testimony sharply contradicts some of Browder testimony, and paints Browder as a more complex figure than Browder’s portrayal of himself as a wrongly persecuted anti-corruption crusader. Browder’s various shell companies in tax havens around the world muddy the waters of Browder’s story considerably. Was Browder’s $230 million in taxes in fact paid to the Russian government, as Browder claims, and then stolen by the government and laundered overseas for the benefit of Putin and others (creating a pretext for turning Browder into a fugitive)? Or was Browder truly guilty of tax evasion, using his shell companies to hide the money, as the Russian government accused him of? Or is the answer something in between? Regardless, one comes away from Simpson’s testimony with a more multi-dimensional understanding of Browder.

Browder’s evasiveness and unwillingness to testify under oath are somewhat consistent with Browder’s story. If Browder truly is considered by Putin to be a major enemy – a likelihood that seems to be agreed upon by all – it is reasonable for him to be fearful when seeing two strange men approaching him in a Colorado parking lot or on the streets of Manhattan, and it is reasonable for him to be cagey about putting himself in a well publicized location like a courtroom, where he could potentially be assassinated upon entering or leaving. According to accounts of Browder’s Senate testimony, he showed up flanked by two large bodyguards. [Esquire]

Yet Browder has also willingly spoken at publicized events, like his appearance at the Aspen Institute, so his wariness and overabundance of caution seems to be selective.

The major takeaway from Simpson’s testimony about his Prevezon work, however, is that information gathered by Fusion GPS ended up being used by a likely Russian operative, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and ultimately by Russian Special Prosecutor Chaika, to further the interests of the Russian government. That was how the information was used in the Trump Tower meeting, and how it was used in lobbying efforts with U.S. Congresspersons Rep. Dana Rohrobacher (R-CA) and Rep. French Hill (R-AR).

The most important question is whether or not Simpson was aware that Fusion’s research was going to be used in that way and whether or not Simpson provided the research information to someone that he knew was a likely Russian government operative.

The explanation that Simpson gives for how things evolved seems very plausible, and I personally believe it: the case started out as a normal case of technical research, Browder came up in that technical research, and behaved in an actively antagonistic yet evasive way that raised questions. Browder’s actions prompted further investigation into him and his business ties, which produced incriminating information. Veselnitskaya, recognizing the value of that information to her career in Russia, opportunistically took it to the Russian government, who began making use of her and the information to undermine the Magnitsky Act – a major personal goal of Putin’s. In such a situation, where a reputable, conservative law firm with a known track record of prudence had introduced Simpson to Veselnitskaya merely as a lawyer, it was reasonable for Simpson to take that initial understanding of who she was at face value, and to not anticipate the possibility that during the course of the case, she would become an operative for the Russian government.

In general, Simpson appeared to be extremely forthcoming in both of his lengthy, voluntary testimonies, often answering questions with far more thoroughness than required, and at times even including names and dates without prompting.

However, Simpson’s haziness about the events around June 9, 2016 seems inconsistent with his detailed recollection of the events and characters of the Prevezon case (and of Trump’s background). Most notably, regarding his own actions, Simpson seemed unclear about the exact reason that he had gone home on June 9. In the Senate testimony, he said “My son’s junior prom was that night or senior prom and I was under some pressure to go home and be a dad” (p. 260-261). In the House testimony, he said “it was my son’s high school graduation. It was an event for my son’s high school graduation” (p. 121). He also said in the Senate testimony that the Washington DC dinner that he and Veselnitskaya attended was on June 10, and in the House testimony he said that it was on June 10 or 11.

This foggy recollection could be easily attributed to Simpson being more engaged in his research work than in his personal life. Yet given that his actions during this particular time period are crucial to understanding his involvement with Veselnitskaya and her Trump Tower meeting, one would think that he would have looked through his own calendar book and other records between the Senate and House testimonies so that he could give a clearer answer.

Nonetheless, it is also worth noting that in over 16 hours of testimony – 10 without having sworn an oath, then six under oath – with at times aggressive questioning, these were the only inconsistencies between his first and second testimony, and they are not even inconsistencies, but merely an inability to remember exact details of his own life from two specific days that had been over a year in the past by the time he was first asked to account for them.

– rob rünt


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 6: William Browder

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 6: William Browder

William Browder’s Opening Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee – July 26, 2017

(Full Text of Browder’s Opening Statement)


Disclaimer: This is a summary of William Browder’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 26, 2017. The information below was presented by William Browder in his testimony, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “William Browder states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Browder_William-CROP
William Browder (Photo: Wikipedia)

Detailed Summary 

Browder was born in Chicago, and is now a British citizen. He has lived in London and Moscow for the past 28 years. He founded Hermitage Capital Management, a major investment advisory firm in Russia, which in 1996-2005 had over $4 billion in Russian stocks.

As owner of a major finance firm, he began learning that Russian oligarchs steal from shareholders, including from Browder’s fund, the Hermitage Fund. To fight this corruption, he began researching how these oligarchs were stealing the money. He would then pass the information on to the Russian news media.

Although Browder never met Putin personally, Browder’s efforts were supported and even assisted by Putin, because the oligarchs had “misappropriated much of the president’s power as well,” and Putin was just beginning to consolidate his own power.

In 2003, Putin arrested and jailed Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and staged a dramatic and humiliating televised show trial to make a public example of him. After that, the other Russian oligarchs came to fear Putin. Putin began demanding a 50% cut of the money that they were stealing, and Putin was no longer supportive of Browder’s anti-corruption efforts, which would now negatively impact Putin’s intake.

On November 13, 2005, Browder was detained and deported from Russia as a “threat to national security.” Eighteen months later, the Russian Interior Ministry raided the Moscow office of Hermitage Capital Management and Browder’s attorney and seized “all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that I advised.”

Browder hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate what the officials were doing with these documents. Magnitsky determined that the documents were being used to re-register Browder’s holding companies to a convicted murderer named Viktor Markelov, and $230 million in taxes paid to the Russian government by Browder’s companies had been diverted elsewhere. [Note: Prevezon Holdings was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt.]

Browder and Magnitsky notified the Russian authorities of what was going on, but instead of arresting those responsible, the authorities arrested and jailed Magnitsky. He was in prison for nearly a year under unusually horrible conditions, during which time, he was pressured to withdraw his testimony and sign a statement that he had stolen the money on instruction from Browder. Magnitsky refused.

Magnitsky’s health deteriorated dramatically in prison. He developed pancreatitis and gallstones which required surgery, but was instead transferred to an extremely harsh prison called Butyrka where no such treatment was available. His condition became critical. Magnitsky was transferred to another prison, was chained in an isolation cell, and was beaten to death by eight guards on November 16, 2009.

Browder, feeling responsible because Magnitsky had died defending him, vowed to avenge Magnitsky’s death. Magnitsky had documented all of the abuse during his time in prison in handwritten notes secretly passed to his attorneys. When this evidence was brought to Russian authorities, nobody was prosecuted. Instead, many responsible were given promotions.

Browder believed that the $230 million was likely in the west, where other Russians could not steal it. He decided to seek justice by getting the western assets of Magnitsky’s tormenters frozen and their visas to enter the United States denied.

In 2010, Browder began lobbying Senators Benjamin Cardin (D -MD) and John McCain (R-AZ) to create the Magnitsky Act, to freeze the western assets of specific Russian individuals and ban their visas. In late 2012, the act passed both houses of Congress and was singed into law by President Obama.

Putin responded with various retaliatory measures, including imposing a ban on American adoption of Russian orphans. Browder believes that Putin’s outrage was in part because Putin had ultimately been the personal recipient of Browder’s missing $230 million. Putin’s closest childhood friend, Sergei Roldugin, who Browder believes was acting as an agent for Putin, was shown in the Panama Papers to have received $2 billion from various Russian oligarchs. Part of this money was Browder’s $230 million. Because this particular money ultimately led to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Putin is subject to the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act. Putin’s wealth is estimated at $200 billion, and much of it is in western countries, so Putin has a personal reason to want the Magnitsky Act repealed. The act also weakens Putin’s control over wealthy Russian oligarchs.

A Russian named Boris Nemtsov helped Browder advocate for the Magnitsky Act. In 2015, Nemtsov was murdered on a bridge in front of the Kremlin. Another Magnitsky Act advocate, Vladimir Kara-Murza, was poisoned in December 2016 and barely survived. Another Magnitsky Act advocate, the lawyer for Magnitsky’s mother, Nikolai Gorokhov, was thrown from the fourth floor of his apartment building in early 2017 but survived. Browder himself has also received multiple death threats from Russia, and the Russian government has also tried to arrest him multiple times using Interpol and other law enforcement.

Browder believes that wealthy Russians Pyotr Katsyv and Denis Katsyv, Natalia Veselnitskaya (the lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner at Trump Tower) and a group of “American lobbyists” began a campaign in the U.S. to repeal the Magnitsky Act or to have Magnitsky’s name removed from the Act.

Pyotr Katsyv is a high level Russian government official. His son Denis was caught using what Browder believes was part of his $230 million to purchase Manhattan real estate to launder the money. Veselnitskaya is the Katsyv’s attorney.

Veselnitskaya also created a “fake NGO” called Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI) to advocate repeal the Magnitsky Act by focusing on Russian adoption. Veselnitskaya brought on Rinat Akhmetshin – a U.S. citizen and former Soviet intelligence officer – to help with HRAGI’s efforts.

Veselnitskaya hired New York law firm Baker Hostetler to lobby Congress to remove Magnitsky’s name from the Magnitsky Act. Through that law firm, she also hired Fusion GPS to “conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act.”

Fusion GPS told U.S. media that Magnitsky “was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal.” Veselnitskaya hired marketing firm Potomac Group to create a fake documentary to discredit Browder and Sergei Magnitsky, a huge screening of which was held at the Newseum in Washington DC. Howard Schweitzer of Cozzen O’Connor Public Strategies and former Congressman Ronald Dellums – both of whom had been hired by Veselnitskaya to lobby Congress to repeal the Magnitsky Act – funded the screening and invited members of Congress to attend.

Browder believes that all of these activities were violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, requiring entities engaged in political or quasi-political activities in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments to register and disclose their activities, finances, and their relationship with the foreign government. Browder has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice stating that many of the groups and individuals above violated FARA.


Analysis

Browder’s testimony paints an overall image of rampant corruption in Russia, where oligarchs scam investors and Putin takes a cut of the oligarchs’ illicit gains. The testimony also makes clear that Browder is at the center of the creation of the Magnitsky Act, which currently prevents Putin and a number of other wealthy Russians from accessing their assets in the west. Putin had retaliated for the Magnitsky Act by, among other things, banning adoption of Russian orphans by Americans.

Given that the obscure subject of Russian adoption seems to come up repeatedly in interactions between Trump’s people and Russians, it is reasonable to assume that there are efforts to persuade Mr. Trump to repeal the Magnitsky Act so that Putin can once again access his frozen U.S. assets.

  • When Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. later claimed that the discussion was merely about Russian adoption
  • Similarly, when Trump spoke with Putin at the G20 meeting [Vox] , Trump claims that they primarily talked about Russian adoptions.

Browder’s testimony also brings Prevezon Holdings into the forefront of the issues surrounding the Magnitsky Act, accusing them of helping launder $230 million in taxes that he claimed he paid to Russia, but which the Russian government later claimed was not paid by Browder. Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky died in prison trying to help Browder prove his case. Part of Browder’s efforts to allegedly avenge Magnitsky involved informing the U.S. Department of Justice that Prevezon was engaged in money laundering in New York.

Browder claims that law firm Baker Hostetler (hired to defend Prevezon), Fusion GPS (hired by Baker Hostetler to gather research supporting Prevezon’s court case), and a number of other organizations were involved in a campaign to repeal the Magnitsky Act. He also claims that those organizations, as well as Natalia Veselnitskaya, were operating on behalf of the Russian government. If so, their anti-Magnitsky campaign work would be a violation of FARA, because they had not registered to disclose that they were working on behalf of the Russian government.

Fusion’s production of the Trump dossier, if done as unregistered agents of the Russian government, could have been part of Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Creation of the Trump dossier would of course not be intended to sway the election toward Trump. The intent would instead be to sow discord, chaos and distrust in the election among the American people – goals that would be consistent with Putin’s. Yet Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson, whose testimonies are covered later in this series, comes across as an extremely straightforward, credible and forthcoming witness, which would tend to negate the idea of Fusion as being in league with the Kremlin.

Because of the possibility that Fusion was acting on behalf of the Russian government, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee interviewing Simpson focused on Fusion GPS’s work on the Prevezon case.

– rob rünt


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web