By Stelios Orphanides
The Cypriot lawyer of William Browder said that he has appealed against the Nicosia District Court’s decision dismissing a request for an order barring Nicosia from cooperating with Moscow in a probe against founder of Hermitage Capital and asked authorities to reassess the situation.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou should take into account the fact that the court did accept in its August 3 ruling, the argument of Browder’s side that the investigation against him and his associate Ivan Cherkasov is politically motivated and Cyprus’ cooperation with Russia violates their human rights, Christos Pourgourides said in an interview on Monday.
Should this cooperation continue, and the Russian justice system finds Browder guilty in a politically motivated case, Cyprus’ cooperation would only provide legitimisation to the ruling, Pourgourides said.
The Cypriot court decided to allow Cyprus to continue assisting Russia in its investigation on the grounds that probable human rights violations would not be irreparable and that the island’s taxpayers could subsequently compensate Browder and Cherkassov who have also filed a lawsuit against Cyprus.
Nicolaou and a justice ministry press officer did not respond to a request for comment.
Last September, Browder and his associate Ivan Cherkasov applied for a court order to stop Cyprus from assisting Russia in its punitive investigation against them. In the following month, Cyprus decided to temporarily freeze cooperation with Russia pending the outcome of the court’s decision, which in turned angered Moscow just days ahead of President Nicos Anastasiades’ visit to the Russian capital.
Russia launched the probe in response to Browder’s campaign for justice for lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian prison nine years ago after exposing a $230m (€202m) tax theft. The Russian lawyer had filed a complaint a year before that Russian officials were part of a plot to steal the ownership of three subsidiaries of Hermitage Capital, then the largest foreign investment fund in Russia, and file a request for a tax refund. The police officers involved in the scheme arrested Magnitsky and held him imprisoned for almost a year, subjecting him to torture and denying him access to medical care.
As a result of Browder’s campaign, the US passed in 2012 the Magnitsky Act which imposes targeted sanctions on individuals and entities suspected of human rights violations. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe asked member states in 2014 not to cooperate with Russia in its actions against Browder and adopt similar legislation like the US. Interpol repeatedly ignored Russia’s request for an arrest warrant against Browder.
“Should Cyprus continue cooperating with Russia, Browder could be convicted in absentia which damages his reputation,” Pourgourides said. “This type of damage is difficult to quantify. Not everyone knows that the case brought against him by Russia was politically motivated which in turns deprives him and Cherkassov of opportunities”.
“The revision of the decision is de facto an imperative,” Pourgourides added. “The benefits from satisfying Russia’s request would be small and the damage huge. But even if the opposite were true, the request should be ignored because the Republic of Cyprus cannot provide legal assistance in a criminal case that was deemed to violate my clients’ constitutional rights”.
Russia, which has a dismal record in corruption and human rights, is the second largest source of business for Cyprus’s tourism industry and major customer for the Cypriot corporate and legal services providers. As a result of the bilateral double taxation agreement, signed a decade before the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the island has evolved as Russia’s main source of foreign investment thanks to mainly Russian-owned companies based in Cyprus.
In recent months, the US which is trying to contain Russia’s attempts to expand its influence, is pressuring Cyprus’ financial, legal and corporate services sector into adhering with sanctions imposed on influential Russian individuals and companies as well complying with stricter anti-money laundering standards.
Parts of the funds, the theft of which Magnitsky exposed, was laundered in Cyprus.