Russia’s Prosecutor General has lambasted a group of MEPs over attempts to pressure Cyprus into terminating its legal cooperation with Moscow in the case of Magnitsky Act mastermind, and serial tax evader, William Browder.
In October 2017, 17 members of the European Parliament signed an open letter to Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades. The letter called on Anastasiades to stop assisting Russia in its investigation against Browder, the US-born British investor who lobbied for the list of anti-Russian sanctions known as the Magnitsky Act. They called the criminal case launched against the founder of Hermitage Capital Management “politically motivated” and went as far as to accuse Cyprus of “assisting” Russia in “human rights violations.”
Even though the letter carried absolutely no legal weight and could not force Anastasiades to take any measures, the MEPs still sought to exert pressure on the Cypriot authorities by stating that “the conduct of Cyprus in this case will have implications that go far beyond this case.” The Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika on Monday called the move nothing but a “politically motivated attempt to influence in an illegal way [the] judicial authorities” of Cyprus.
In a letter addressing the European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, Chaika draws attention to the fact that the letter sent by the MEPs to the Cypriot president was in fact an attempt to “impose their opinion dictated by the political posturing on the sovereign state” in the interests of a person, who is being investigated over committing “serious… economic crimes,” including tax evasion. He also called such actions “inadmissible and dangerous.”
“By virtue of signing this document, the members [of the European Parliament] are interfering shamelessly in the competence of others, imposing arrogantly and disrespectfully their illegal and unfounded position on a sovereign state,” the prosecutor general said in his address to the president of the European parliament. He also denounced the MEPs’ letter as “astonishing in its blatant legal nihilism.”
Back in October, the MEPs said in their letter that Cyprus’ decision to provide assistance to Russia in its investigation against Browder was “clearly in violation of your obligations under the rule of law.” Chaika dismissed these claims, adding that the legal cooperation between Moscow and Nicosia is carried out in strict compliance with the 1959 European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.
He also drew attention to the fact that exerting pressure on judicial authorities of sovereign states in any form “significantly undermines the authority of the European Parliament” itself. As for Browder himself, Chaika said that the British investor has long misled the international community, including the EU, about the alleged political nature of his prosecution by the Russian authorities and did so “with impunity and in a cynical manner.”
Browder himself also sought to impede cooperation between the Russian and Cypriot authorities on his case. Just weeks before the MEPs sent their letter to the Cypriot president, he filed a request to the court of Nicosia, asking for an emergency injunction against the transfer of any data concerning his activities in the island country to Russia.
The investor, who claims to be a victim of political persecution, has been found guilty of a number of serious economic crimes he committed in Russia. In 2013, he was sentenced to nine years in prison in absentia for tax evasion. According to the 2013 court verdict, he failed to pay over 552 million rubles in taxes (about $16 million). He also illegally bought shares in the country’s natural gas giant Gazprom, thus inflicting financial damage amounting to at least 3 billion rubles ($100 million).
In November, Natalya Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who conducted her own investigation into Browder’s operations, told RT that the investor fears that his fraudulent investment schemes would be revealed to European authorities if Cyprus continued to cooperate with Moscow in its probe against him.
The Prosecution Office of Cyprus actually suspended cooperation with Russia on Browder in mid-October, even before the letter signed by the European lawmakers reached the Cypriot president. At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry suspected the Cypriot authorities’ decision had been influenced from abroad.