U.S. businessman, Putin critic, tweets arrest on “Russian” warrant

British-American businessman Bill Browder, who was once the biggest foreign investor in Russia but has become a vocal critic of the country and clashed with President Vladimir Putin’s government, said Wednesday that he was detained in Spain on a “Russian” arrest warrant. Browder, who says Putin directly orchestrated a Kremlin attempt to influence the presidential campaign of Donald Trump in 2016, tweeted on Wednesday morning that he’d been arrested on an Interpol warrant, but the international law enforcement agency denied any involvement.

“Just was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant. Going to the police station right now,” Browder said on Twitter, adding that the police would not tell him which station he was being taken to. He posted photo taken from the back of the police car.

A spokesperson at the Interpol Press told CBS News on Wednesday that, “Browder has never been put on a Interpol Red notice, there have been requests made in the past, but he has never been on any Interpol Red Notice.” The spokesperson denied that Browder was even in the agency’s data base.

Interpol said the Spanish authorities would have to explain their reason for detaining Browder.

Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, has become a major antagonist to the Kremlin in recent years, as he challenges the narrative pushed by Moscow that Russia made no efforts to meddle in the 2016 election process.

In July last year, as President Trump continued to defend his oldest son for meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the campaign, Browder told “CBS This Morning” that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Trump Jr. in June 2016, “was taking money from a Russian oligarch, who is close to Putin, to try to overturn the Magnitsky Act.” 

Trump Jr. has said the meeting was primarily about the Magnitsky Act. The U.S. law, passed in 2012, imposes economic sanctions and travel restrictions on Russians named as human rights abusers. 

The act is named after Russian tax attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who worked to expose corruption among people linked to the Kremlin. He died in 2009 while being held in a Russian prison. The Russian government says the cause of death was heart failure, but many observers believe Magnitsky was murdered, including Browder, whose taxes Magnitsky handled.

Browder was a driving force behind getting the Magnitsky Act made law in the U.S. He believes it’s Putin’s No. 1 priority to get the U.S. to lift sanctions under the act, which currently affect 44 Russians. 

Veselnitskaya hired Rinat Akhmetshin — whom Browder described in July 2017 as a “shady former Soviet spy, current spy, Washington operator” — and organized a full-on lobbying campaign, “hiring the top lobbyists, the top law firms, the top PR firms,” to try and get rid of the act. 

The Trump family claims nothing came of the meeting. Then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus called it a “big nothing burger.” 

“Let’s just look at it very simply,” Browder told CBS News. “Vladimir Putin wants to get rid of this act that’s going to sanction his assets. It’s his top priority. He assigns an oligarch to go in and spend all the money to get rid of it. The Russian KBG is not stupid. They want something in return.”

“We don’t know what happened in that meeting,” he continued. “We don’t know who said what to whom because you can’t trust the Russians, and the Trump people keep changing their story, so, who knows what kind of burger it is.”

“They were spending money on every different legal motion they could come up with,” he continued. “They were hiring lobbyists left and right and center.”

“They were getting Donald Trump Jr., all on behalf of Vladimir Putin to get rid of the Magnitsky Act,” Browder said. 

When asked if he believed there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to impact the American election, Browder replied: “I have no idea. All I can say is I know the Russian side intimately and I can tell you this was a highly resourced operation to get rid of a piece of legislation that would affect Vladimir Putin personally.”

The dispute over the Magnitsky Act sanctions wound up entangling some American families who were seeking to adopt children from Russian orphanages.

“Vladimir Putin was so angry about the Magnitsky Act that he was looking for some type of retaliation,” Browder explained. “He couldn’t freeze assets or other types of things because the Americans would retaliate against that. And so he came up with the most heartless, vindictive thing he could do, which was Americans were adopting disabled Russian orphans, and he said, ‘No, you can’t adopt them anymore.'”

According to Browder, at that time about 500 American families had met sick babies and children who were “longing to go home to America.” Some ended up dying in orphanages because they weren’t being treated properly. 

Browder also addressed the fact that he’s been “threatened on a number of occasions by agents of the Russian government.”

“I do fear for my life,” he said.  

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