Financier Bill Browder, wanted in Russia on tax evasion charges, has accused Republican Senator Dana Rohrabacher of being a Moscow stooge, alleging that he was paid by the Kremlin to lobby for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
Browder made his bold statement about Rohrabacher, who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats in the US Congress, as he was speaking at a panel at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday.
The self-styled “largest Putin’s critic” was accusing Moscow of bribing foreign officials to promote its interests abroad, when he went on a personal offensive against Rohrabacher.
“There is one member of the US Congress, who, I believe, is on the payroll of Russia. He is a Republican congressman from Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, who is running around trying to overturn the Magnitsky Act on behalf of [Russian lawyer] Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is the person who went to Trump Tower,” Browder said.
Pressed by a bewildered moderator to back up his claims that Rohrabacher is effectively an agent of the Kremlin with some facts, he toned down his initial remark.
“I did not say he’s an agent of the Russian government, I believe he is under some type of the influence by the Russian government,” Browder said.
Asked if he had any evidence of that supposed nefarious collusion, Browder said that while he did not have “bank transfers to prove it,” he still believes he is right in his suspicions.
According to Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital, Rohrabacher’s actions speak for themselves.
Those actions include taking documents referring to Browder’s tax evasion probe from Russian deputy prosecutor general Viktor Grin when Rohrabacher went to Moscow as part of a congressional delegation in 2016.
Browder also alleged that the congressman “was also entertaining Natalia Veselnitskaya on various occasions,” without giving any details.
Back in 2017, Browder filed a complaint with the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control against Rohrabacher, alleging that, by listening to the Russia prosecution’s side and taking relevant documents to Washington, he had violated the Russia sanctions.
Rebuking the argument, Rohrabacher stated that Browder’s complaint may indicate that he does not want potentially damning facts to come to light, noting that “attempts to intimidate a member of Congress not to look at both sides is suspicious in and of itself.”
Browder’s attack on Rohrabacher comes days after the lawmaker admitted that he was once a part of the Russian-US meeting, which was also attended by Maria Butina, a Russian gun activist who was arrested in the US on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Her trial in the US is scheduled to commence next Wednesday.
Rohrabacher told Politico that the meeting was of “no consequence,” while calling accusations against Butina “ridiculous” and “an attempt to undermine the president’s ability to have better relationships with Russia.”
Browder’s own name resurfaced this week following the summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday. During the press conference, Putin proposed that the US give Russian prosecutors access to interview people believed to be involved in the tax evasion scheme in Russia, – including the fugitive from justice Browder and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who might have facilitated his dealings.
In return, Moscow would have provided FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team with an opportunity to question the indicted Russians accused of meddling on the 2016 US election. Washington has turned down the proposal.
Speaking about the feud between Browder and the Russian authorities, Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, points out that it was not always the case, as Browder held the Moscow government in quite a high regard until the Russian authorities delved deeper into his shady financial dealings.
“He was a big hedge fund operator in the 90s in Russia when billions of dollars were taken by corrupt individuals. Fortunes were made, in fact Browder himself made over a billion dollars with his hedge fund,” McAdams said, noting that “his very positive attitude toward Russia continued through the Putin era despite what you may hear on television.”
“Everything was fun and dandy until it seems that some of his past caught up with him, at least, according to the accusations, that he was dodging taxes.”