Glen Isherwood, “Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)
In light of news that politicians Andrew Hastie and Kimberley Kitching are pursuing a bill through the Australian Parliament that would empower Canberra to target and impose sanctions on officials and individuals for supposed human rights abuses – the so-called Magnitsky legislation – Australian Citizens Party researcher Robert Barwick interviews US investigative reporter Lucy Komisar on the work she has done exposing such legislation using supposed human rights abuses to target and blacklist nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and set them up for strategic confrontation and regime change. This interview is very detailed if selective (mainly due to time constraints), starting with Komisar’s early work as an investigative journalist and human rights activist across three continents in the 1960s through to the 1980s and then jumping to her work investigating the activities of Bill Browder in Russia through his Hermitage Capital Management Fund in the 1990s to capitalise on the privatisation of Russian state corporations under the Yeltsin presidency.
Taking the form of a conversation in which Barwick allows Komisar to explain at length what Browder did over the 1990s and the early 2000s, setting up shell companies for the purposes of transfer pricing (originally a legitimate practice in which two related companies in different taxation jurisdictions exchange goods and the price at which the exchange takes place is settled by the tax authorities in those jurisdictions according to rules and methods those authorities agree upon; companies may take advantage of such rules and methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay) and taking advantage of and abusing legislation in Kalmykia (an administrative region in Russia where the major ethnic group is Buddhist Kalmyks) in which companies got tax concessions if they employed people with disabilities, the bulk of the interview can sometimes be hard for viewers to follow unless they are already familiar with the history of Browder’s activities and of Magnitsky himself. The truth is Magnitsky was arrested and jailed for tax evasion as Browder’s accountant, and that Browder himself was being pursued by Russian authorities for stealing millions through the shell companies he set up with Magnitsky’s advice and assistance. The notion that Browder and Magnitsky are or were human rights champions keen on uncovering and exposing corruption in Russian politics in the 1990s and beyond – a notion that Browder promoted in the US and the EU, and is now promoting in Australia – proves to be a smokescreen covering up Browder’s own venality which as Komisar explains extends back in time even further than his adventures in Russia with Hermitage Capital Management Fund.
The more interesting part of the interview comes late in its second half when Barwick and Komisar discuss how her submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – Human Rights Sub-Committee exposing Browder as a human rights fraud and that the Magnitsky sanctions legislation is based on lies was redacted and virtually ignored by the sub-committee. (As a result of her submission, Komisar was accused by Browder of being allied to or working in some capacity for the Russia government.) This leads among other things into a discussion on how the weaponisation of human rights in the form of sanctions legislation can be an attack on the concept of human rights itself, in that sanctioning individuals for supposed human rights crimes makes a mockery of human rights legislation and can be used to attack genuine human rights activists. If the bill backed by Kitching and Hastie were to be passed in Canberra, people targeted by the legislation would have no right of due process if they were to try to challenge it. (Even Australian citizens themselves might fall foul of such legislation, if they were to try to send money or gifts to relatives linked to sanctioned individuals or relatives living countries whose governments have been sanctioned.) The Human Rights Sub-Committee is deliberately ignoring submissions like Komisar’s submission in driving the new Magnitsky sanctions legislation, and the reason for doing so is purely political: to persecute and isolate individuals, organisations and even entire nations that follow policies or agendas that the US, the UK and their allies disagree with. Australia is expected to follow what the US and the UK decree, even at its own expense.
The danger of the West adopting the Magnitsky laws is that they set a dangerous precedent and model for other governments to target the political opposition and dissidents within their own nations. Laws that purport to uphold human rights are instead twisted into laws that degrade human rights. In addition, adopting Magnitsky laws that sanction individuals, organisations and nations when laws already exist to censure such entities can only result in confusion for governments to enforce and for courts to interpret if the new legislation contradicts current legislation.
The interview deserves to be seen at least twice or three times for viewers to understand the danger that passing the Magnitsky sanctions bill in Parliament poses to human rights activists in Australia. Viewers will need to do their own research on Browder and Magnitsky’s activities in Russia in the 1990s and the early 2000s that resulted in Magnitsky’s arrest and imprisonment. The implication that even in death Magnitsky is being used as a pawn by Browder to escape trial and imprisonment and to enrich himself, at the expense of people living in countries targeted by Magnitsky legislation where it has been passed, and of genuine human rights activists, is not lost on viewers. That Bill Browder can continue to cause havoc wherever he goes, and is seemingly unstoppable, given his history, might encourage some viewers to consider that he may be an intelligence asset.