MOSCOW, April 22 (RIA Novosti) – Russia put Hermitage Capital equity fund head William Browder on an international wanted list after Moscow’s Tverskoi Court issued an arrest warrant for the UK-based businessman on Monday, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Moscow court upheld a request from investigators who said Browder had failed to respond to a summons from investigators.
UK citizen Browder is, however, unlikely to be arrested. Britain has repeatedly rejected extradition requests from Moscow for businessmen in the past.
Browder’s defense said it will appeal his arrest warrant, a RAPSI legal news agency correspondent reported from the courtroom.
Browder, the ex-boss of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 death in a Moscow jail triggered a furious diplomatic row between Moscow and Washington, was charged in absentia in March with illegally purchasing shares in Russian energy giant Gazprom.
He was charged with buying Gazprom stock at a time when foreign ownership of the world's largest natural gas producer was restricted. The Interior Ministry said the charges were filed in absentia because no one had responded to the summons served two days before by diplomatic mail.
On Monday, the Interior Ministry said any comments from Hermitage Capital on the case of the Gazprom stock purchases would be interpreted as an attempt to pressure investigators.
“Representatives of the affiliate of Hermitage Capital are not a competent body to interpret the norms of Russian laws, and are not entitled to assess the actions of official bodies of power who are conducting an objective investigation,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Their comments to media may be interpreted as an attempt to pressure investigators,” it said.
A Hermitage Capital representative responded to the Interior Ministry’s warning with a statement of their own, saying: “We have no intention of being muzzled by a group of corrupt police officers who are trying to cover up the grave crimes of torture and extra-judicial killing and massive thefts.”
Browder is also on trial in absentia alongside the late Magnitsky on embezzlement charges. Investigators accuse them of embezzling hundreds of millions of rubles from the budget by manipulating tax returns in 2007.
Hermitage Capital maintains it paid 5.4 billion rubles ($180 million) in taxes, but that the money was stolen by corporate raiders with the help of law enforcement officials.
Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 on charges of tax evasion shortly after he accused Russian officials of involvement in fraud. He died in a pre-trial detention center in 2009. Many rights groups say the death was the result of physical abuse and failure to provide medical treatment.
In March 2013, the Russian Investigative Committee dropped its investigation into Magnitsky’s death, saying it had determined that no crime had taken place.
Earlier this month, the United States published a list of Russian officials facing visa and financial sanctions under the Magnitsky Act.
Russia responded by publishing its own list of US officials banned from Russia for alleged human rights abuses in response to the US list. Each list comprises 18 names.
The Magnitsky Act was signed into law by US President Barack Obama in December 2012 and is ostensibly designed to punish officials Washington believes to be connected to Magnitsky’s death. The scope of the legislation was later broadened to cover a whole range of suspected rights abusers.