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Bill Browder: 'If I were to be handed over to Russia, I would be killed'

Brendan Smialowski, AFP | US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint press conference after a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018.

US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin this week marked “the lowest point in his presidency”, Kremlin critic William Browder tells FRANCE 24, calling a Putin proposal that Russia be allowed to question US citizens “absurd”.

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Speaking after a summit between the two leaders in Helsinki on Monday, Putin said he would allow US investigators probing allegations of Russian election meddling to question 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the case.

In exchange, however, Putin wanted Russian officials to interrogate those whom he accuses of involvement in “illegal actions” on Russian territory, notably Browder, former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and nine others. 

Trump called it an “incredible offer”, sparking widespread and bipartisan outrage. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backtracked on Thursday, saying Trump “disagreed” with the proposal to turn over Americans for questioning.

Bill Browder: 'If I were to be handed over to Russia, I would be killed'

Speaking to the FRANCE 24 Debate show on Thursday, Browder said it was “absurd” that the Trump administration would consider giving Russia access to US citizens, “who have been toiling away, on behalf of the US government, in Congress, in the State Department, in the Department of Homeland Security – fighting Russian organised crime, fighting Putin’s bad actions".

He added: “It’s not ‘America First’ to hand over loyal, patriotic servants of the US government to Russia.”

‘We will get more Magnitsky Acts’

A co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management, Browder was at one point the largest investor in Russia. But he eventually became a target of the Kremlin after helping expose corruption at some of Russia's biggest firms and by implicating billionaire oligarchs.

The 54-year-old has been a thorn in Putin’s side since he helped persuade the US Congress to institute the so-called Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russian human rights violators.

The act is named after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail in 2009 at the age of 37. An investigation by Russia's presidential council for human rights found that he had been severely beaten while in custody, an allegation also made by his family.

Browder, who also holds a British passport and keeps his whereabouts secret, suggested he would suffer a similar fate if he fell into Russian hands.

“If I were to be handed over to Russia, I would be killed,” he told FRANCE 24.

'We'll get more Magnitsky Acts because of Putin's conduct'

Browder said Putin’s decision to bring him up as a “bargaining chip” at Monday’s summit was evidence that the Magnitsky Act is working.

“Vladimir Putin has been my best advocate for showing how effective it is and how upset he is by it,” he said, claiming the Russian leader’s attempt to silence critics had “blown up in his face”.

“We will get more Magnitsky Acts for sure because of his (Putin's) conduct at this summit”.

So far, the act has been adopted by Canada, the UK, the Baltic states and Gibraltar. Other countries considering its passage include France, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ukraine and South Africa.

>> Bill Browder: 'How I became Putin's no. 1 enemy'

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