The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes
is a Norwegian, internationally supported investigative documentary feature. Its scheduled premiere at the European Parliament in Brussels on April 27 2016 was cancelled at the last moment due to the legal threats from the protagonists at the centre of the investigation. A few days later ARTE (a French-German TV network that co-financed the film) annulled the May 3 broadcast at a short notice. The legal and political pressure on the film and its makers has continued ever since. In September 2018 the film was taken down by Vimeo
for alleged defamation
The film tells the story of how William (Bill) Browder, an American born investment consultant and manager of a fund trading in Russian energy companies' shares, invented a seminal narrative of Russian corruption and brutality.
Using PowerPoint presentations and two websites
Browder (and a team of his mainly Russian U.K. based associates) developed a story about a lawyer and heroic whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky who had uncovered an elaborate financial fraud and exposed its perpetrators, in particular, two police officers who subsequently had Magnitsky arrested and imprisoned. During Magnitsky's year long detention he was, according to Browder, tortured every day to be forced to take back his accusations of the police. Magnitsky refused and was beaten to death, Browder claims, by eight riot guards in an isolation prison cell in November 2009.
The fraud Magnitsky allegedly uncovered was a large fraudulent refund (approx. USD 230 million) of taxes on dividends to three shell companies under Browder's control. The taxes were paid by the companies upon the sale of shares at the beginning of 2006. At the end of 2007 USD 230 million was wired back to the companies. Even though Browder does not deny that he was a de facto owner of the companies ("through which we made all our investments in Russia") - formally they were subsidiaries of HSBC Management Guernsey Ltd. - Browder claims he had lost control over them (they were "stolen" by Russian criminals) by the time the fraudulent refund was received by the companies.The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes
explores the veracity of Browder's claims. Andrei Nekrasov, the film's director, started out by believing Browder, as did virtually all mainstream media of the world. At a closer look it turned out, however, that the company theft story was riddled with inconsistencies, and the whistleblower role had been falsely assigned to Magnitsky to reinforce the impression that the companies had been stolen by the people Magntisky had allegedly accused.
Browder's version of the events has, however, been universally accepted as true and indicative of total corruption and lawlessness Vladimir Putin presides over. As the Magnitsky narrative evolved over the years Browder started to claim that Putin personally had been motivated to target Magnitsky and him, Browder. The Russian state, Browder claims, has been covering up the crime because a part of the stolen 230 million was sent to Putin's friend, cellist Sergei Roldugin. This is one in the multitude of Browder's claims that is shown to be baseless in The Magnitsky Act - Behind the Scenes
The media's wholesale adoption of a narrative sourced solely by Browder, a businessman with a vested interest in the case, is exceptional. The Magnitsky Act - Behind the Scenes
being all but suppressed by those it exposes, Andrei Nekrasov has, nevertheless, extensive experience discussing the case with journalists working for mainstream corporate media, such as Financial Times, New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Foreign Policy. The director concluded that each time there was little interest in the details of the white collar crime at the centre of his investigative film. Instead, the reporters seemed to be concerned with the political and even geopolitical context of the Magnitsky story. Nekrasov's impression is that the implications of the possibility that Browder's version of the financial fraud might be false are considered potentially too damaging to the political and media establishment. The mistake cannot be undone, and must be turned into an unassailable truth at any cost.
Browder's story is at the foundation of the so-called Magitsky Acts, or laws, in a number of countries, that are supposed to punish the alleged torturers and killers of Magnitsky and other human rights violators. The fact that the American, Canadian, British and other governments have put their stamp of approval on Browder's version of events involving Magnitsky is used to discredit The Magnitsky Act - Behind the Scenes
. That is a highly spurious argument, as the evidence of political institutions and governments having been deceived or co-opted by Browder is contained in the film itself.