Russia sentences fund head Browder who campaigned in Magnitsky case

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court on Friday sentenced British investment fund head William Browder to nine years in prison in absentia after finding him guilty of deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion, the country’s general prosecutor said.

FILE PHOTO: Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder waits to testify before a continuation of Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Browder, head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, led a campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, who he employed as a lawyer, in a Moscow prison.

Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 shortly after alleging that Russian officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud. His death nearly a year later while awaiting trial caused an international uproar.

Magnitsky had said he was mistreated in jail and denied medical care in an effort to get him to confess to tax evasion and give evidence against Browder.

Browder, who has dismissed the allegations against him, said on Twitter on Friday the ruling was President Vladimir Putin’s reaction to his efforts to get five countries, including the United States, to impose so-called Magnitsky sanctions against Russian individuals.

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed its sanctions, which freeze the banks accounts of those targeted, under a 2012 law known as the Magnitsky Act. The act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the death of Magnitsky.

“Putin is so mad at me,” Browder, whose fund specialized in investing in Russia, tweeted.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement that the tax evasion by Browder and co-defendant Ivan Cherkasov had caused some 3.4 billion rubles ($58.76 million) in damage to the Russian federal budget.

In addition to nine years in jail, Browder was also fined 200,000 rubles ($3,500) and barred from doing business in Russia for three years, the Prosecutor General’s Office said.

Cherkasov was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Browder was also sentenced to nine years in jail in 2013 after having been tried along with the late Magnitsky, who was posthumously found guilty of tax evasion.

At the time Interpol refused to include Browder on its international search list after deciding that the tax evasion case against him was “of a predominantly political nature”.

Putin has dismissed allegations of foul play against Magnitsky and said he died of heart failure.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Alison Williams