A Breathtaking Crime

Phillip P. Pan at the Washington Post has an article today on the Bill Browder/Hermitage/HSBC international lawsuit against Renaissance Capital and members of the Russian government.  Also check out the full legal filing for foreign discovery we posted here, with all the names, dates, methods of fraud, and amounts … the full monty.

When three of Russia’s finest lawyers agreed to represent the investment fund Hermitage Capital, they thought they were taking on a routine tax case.

Then they uncovered evidence of a breathtaking crime: Top police and tax authority officials appeared to have quietly seized ownership of Hermitage firms and used them to arrange a $230 million tax refund.

Now, the lawyers themselves are in legal trouble. One has been jailed. The two others have fled the country. All three face charges that seem intended to discredit Hermitage and divert attention from the enormous theft.

Their plight highlights the hazards of practicing law in Russia’s corruption-ridden courts despite nearly two decades of reforms supported by hundreds of millions in U.S. and European aid. Prosecutors and police continue to dominate the judiciary as they did in the Soviet era, but unrestrained by the institutions of the old Communist system or the checks of a genuine democracy, the opportunities for abuse have grown.