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Bill Browder Doubts He'll Be Swapped To Russia For U.S. Access To Russian Agents

William Browder, chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital Management, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 27, 2017.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
William Browder, chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital Management, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on July 27, 2017.

Bill Browder was not surprised Vladimir Putin called him out by name at Monday's press conference with Donald Trump in Helsinki.

Browder's name came up because Putin floated this idea: If the U.S. gave the Kremlin access to Browder, Putin would allow U.S. investigators to interview the 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

What did surprise Browder, he says, was hearing Trump's response. Though Trump didn't mention Browder by name or endorse a swap that involved him, he did praise Putin's idea as "an incredible offer."

"While most people in the world probably haven't heard my name, Vladimir Putin thinks about my name on a very regular basis. He really dislikes me because I'm the guy responsible for the Magnitsky Act," Browder says in an interview on Morning Editionwith NPR's David Greene.

Browder is an investor who became a human rights champion after his accountant and lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died under mysterious circumstances in a Russian jail in 2009. Since then, he's become an outspoken critic of Putin and was the force behind the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that freezes the assets and bans visas for certain Russian officials. Putin has denied the allegations regarding Magnitsky and has accused Browder of a multitude of crimes.

Interview Highlights

On whether he thinks such a swap would happen

No, I don't think there's a chance in hell that would happen. First of all, Robert Mueller is not interested in sitting in a room while Russian police officers interview Russian spies about election hacking. Robert Mueller wants these 12 individuals brought to the United States to face trial.

On what Putin has to gain by letting officials question him

I think this was almost an emotional reaction. You have to look at the timing of the whole thing. On Friday of last week was when Mueller issued the indictments against the 12 [Russian military intelligence agency] officers for hacking the U.S. election. And so Putin and his guys only had the weekend to try to sort of figure out how do they deal with that. And so they came up with what is commonly referred to as "whataboutism." What that is is, we say that they've hacked our election – [they say] well, what about Bill Browder? This is just a way of completely turning the conversation, which it kind of has.

On whether Trump's praise of the idea made him fear for his safety

Well, there's one very important caveat which is: although my accent is American and I was born in America, I immigrated to the United Kingdom, to London, 29 years ago and I've been living there ever since and became a British citizen. I'm not an American citizen. And so if Putin really wants to get hold of me to do all this questioning that he's talking about, he's actually approached the wrong head of state. He should be approaching Theresa May, who at this point in time probably has a few words for Vladimir Putin in relation to Novichok chemical weapons.

On Putin's accusations that Browder avoided paying his Russian tax debts, is a serial killer and has stolen money from the IMF

There's not an ounce of truth in anything he said. What happened was that the Russian authorities raided our offices, seized our documents and then stole the tax money. And then our lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky found out about the crime, exposed the crime and then he was subsequently arrested, tortured and killed in prison. And not only have we not done it, they did it and they killed the guy who exposed it.

Joanne Levine edited and Taylor Haney produced this story for broadcast. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.