Eyebrows were justifiably raised at the beginning of this week by claims from Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin in a Wall Street Journal interview that investors should not be deterred by negative reports about the risky, if not downright dangerous business climate in Russia. These reports stem from, amongst others, Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder, whom Sechin improbably described as a ‘happy man’, despite his vociferous campaigning to expose the dangers of the Russian arena, after his personal foray ended with his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, being ‘tortured to death’. Browder responds to Sechin’s remarks in today’s Wall Street Journal:
Given the scale of corruption in Russia and the growing list of investor horror stories, I understand why Mr. Sechin is eager to redeem Russia’s image in the eyes of the world. He joins the efforts of his colleague, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who arranged last month for a small panel of high-profile western CEOs at Davos to offer soothing words about the security of their investments in Russia.
The challenge these men face is that the world knows only too wellthat words alone mean nothing. The way to show that Russia is safe forinvestors is not to offer CEO testimonials. If Messrs. Sechin andShuvalov really want to claim that Russia’s investment climate isimproving, the first thing they should do is to prosecute the officialswho arrested, tortured and killed Sergei Magnitsky and perpetrated thecrime that Sergei exposed, the largest tax fraud in Russian history. Theactions taken and roles played by Lt. Col. Artem Kuznetsov, Lt. Col.Oleg Silchenko, Major Pavel Karpov and Col. Natalia Vinogradova–whosesignatures and orders surface throughout Magnitsky’s ordeal and whocontinue to enjoy the power and authority of the InteriorMinistry–deserve especially close attention.
Bringing the responsible individuals to justice would be a first stepto show that the current Russian government is genuinely working to beon the right side of history. The Magnitsky case has become a lightningrod for public opinion because it is such a clear example of rightversus wrong, and because it paints in the starkest terms the very realhuman cost of investing in Russia today.
Messrs. Sechin and Shuvalov may regretthe public attention the case continues to receive around the world,but its high profile also presents them with an opportunity. Prosecutingthe people who killed Sergei Magnitsky would be hundreds of times morecredible than any hollow words in demonstrating that Russia is finallytaking real steps to protect investors and respect the rule of law.