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Did Prime Minister Medvedev physically threaten Russia’s most acid billionaire critic?

AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
Russia’s mild-mannered prime minister
By Steve LeVine
DavosPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appeared to physically threaten an American billionaire critic of his country in an off-the-record briefing with journalists, the billionaire says.

Because the briefing last week at Davos operated under Chatham House rules, which bar the disclosure of remarks attributed to specific individuals, none of the journalists has written about the session with Medvedev. But Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, says that (video) four journalists who attended the Jan. 24 briefing told him of Medvedev’s remarks.

Browder, once one of Russia’s most enthusiastic Western investors and now one of its most acid critics, accuses Russian officials of murdering his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, after an expose accused them of stealing $230 million in government revenue. Magnitsky died in a Moscow jail in 2009, and the US has passed a law called the Magnitsky Act that bars US entry for Russian officials allegedly complicit in the death. Lithuania has frozen bank accounts allegedly used to secretly get some of the money out of Russia.

The reported remarks are highly unusual not just in their content but their source—Medvedev is typically one of Russia’s most mild-mannered senior leaders, particularly compared with the pugnacious and outspoken president, Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with Reuters, Browder said:

I was approached by four different participants after this session with sort of very disturbed looks on their faces and said–each of them said, ‘You can’t believe what Medvedev just said about you.’ And I said, ‘What is that?’ And they said, when asked about Magnitsky, he said, ‘It’s a shame that Sergei Magnitsky died and Bill Browder is still running free and alive.’

“Each person independently said they interpreted it as a threat,” Browder said.

Browder said he would report the incident to authorities in Britain, where he lives. “If the prime minister of Russia–and this is a country that assassinates people in an extraterritorial basis and it’s in their constitution that they can do that–is making either a direct or implied threat at Davos, that’s a pretty disturbing thing.”

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