Putin critic Bill Browder briefly arrested in Spain on a Russian warrant
A high-profile critic of Vladimir Putin was arrested in Spain this morning on an Interpol Russian arrest warrant, but was released just hours later.
Outspoken British businessman Bill Browder tweeted on Wednesday morning that he had been apprehended by Spanish police in Madrid and was headed to a police station "right now".
"In the back of the Spanish police car going to the station on the Russian arrest warrant," he wrote, alongside a picture from the back of the police car. "They won’t tell me which station."
Roughly two hours after posting his initial tweet, Browder published another post which had a picture of his arrest warrant.
However, the 54-year-old was only held in custody for just over two hours before he was allowed to walk. According to the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management, police in Madrid released him after they were told by Lyon's Interpol General Secretary not to recognise the Russian Interpol Red Notice.
"Good news," Browder wrote on Twitter. "Spanish National Police just released me after Interpol General Secretary in Lyon advised them not to honor the new Russian Interpol Red Notice." However, Spanish police reportedly told news sources that the financier had been released as his arrest warrant had expired.
Minutes after announcing his discharge, Browder tweeted again, revealing that he was in Spain to "give evidence to senior Spanish anti-Russian mafia prosecutor Jose Grinda about the huge amount of money from the Magnitsky case that flowed to Spain," and naming the situation "ironic".
Following his brief arrest, Interpol's Twitter account posted that there was not, and had never been, a Red Notice for Browder and he was not wanted via Interpol channels. However, the businessman's mistrust of the system was emphasised when he replied, tweeting that his arrest in Madrid was, in fact, the sixth time the Russians had used Interpol channels to detain him. In addition, he tweeted pictures of himself at airports in Madrid and London, ensuring his followers knew he was safely home.
Speaking to City A.M, the anti-Putin campaign reportedly accused the UK government of failing to protect him, claiming Russia was using the system "to track down enemies of the Putin regime". He stated: "It is totally unacceptable for the British government not to protect me and other British citizens who have fallen foul of the Kremlin... if I had been handed over to the Russians I would have been killed."
He also heavily criticised the UK government for failing to properly deal with the Kremlin after the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, saying: "All we have seen so far is the expulsion of 23 diplomats and the possible non-visa renewal of Roman Abramovich. If that is the reaction to a chemical weapons attack - a terrorist attack - then it's very weak."
The US-born businessman has been one of Putin's most notorious enemies for years now, having once been labelled as a "serial killer" by the president. After doing business in Russia for more than a decade, he was refused entry into the country back in 2005, with officials naming him a threat to national security. However, Browder insisted it was because he had exposed corruption.
The London-based hedge fund manager fought a long battle with Moscow to punish the Russian officials he blamed for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who specialized in anti-corruption activities.
Magnitsky was found dead, his body bearing bruises, in a Moscow prison cell after being detained for nearly a year over accusations of tax evasion. After his death, his colleague Browder lobbied for US Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, a law designed to punish Russian human rights violators, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Browder was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russia court on charges of fraud and tax evasion, jointly in a posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky. However, Interpol rejected Russian requests to arrest Browder, claiming that the case was political and in 2014, the European Parliament voted for sanctions against 30 Russians believed to be complicit in the Magnitsky case.
Other countries, including the UK, Estonia and Canada enacted similar Magnitsky Acts in the years that followed. In October 2017, President Putin attempted to place Browder on Interpol's arrest list, but was stopped after a protest by U.S. Congressional leaders.