A prominent international critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin is hoping Canada's new Liberal government will make good on pledges to issue new sanctions against a list of human-rights violators in Russia.
Bill Browder, a U.S.-born hedge fund boss who turned into a human-rights crusader after the 2009 killing of his Moscow lawyer, said he was "delighted" to see Toronto MP Chrystia Freeland named to cabinet as Minister of International Trade. She has been a staunch supporter of his call for sanctions on Russians who were involved in his lawyer's killing or its coverup, and on other human-rights violators in Russia.
"It's a no-brainer, it's easy to do, it fits with the times, and I am confident that with a bit of light lifting we will be able to work with the new government to make it happen," Mr. Browder said in a phone interview Wednesday from London.
Mr. Browder's London-based Hermitage Capital Management was once among the largest foreign investors in Russia but in 2005 he was kicked out of Russia and had to pull his fund's holdings out of the country.
One of his Russian lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, then uncovered how Russian officials and organized crime figures later seized his holding companies and used them in a $230-million (all figures U.S.) tax fraud. But Mr. Magnitsky was arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and left to languish for 358 days before he died in jail at age 37..
Mr. Browder convinced U.S. legislators in 2012 to bring in what is known as the Magnitsky Act. The law bans 32 Russians – who allegedly were involved in the slaying of Mr. Magnitsky and subsequent cover-up – from dealing with U.S. banks or travelling to the U.S.
In March, Canada's House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of a motion by then-Liberal MP Irwin Cotler calling on the then-Conservative government to do the same, but it did not pass before Parliament was dissolved, thereby killing it.
Just last week, Mr. Browder met with Ms. Freeland while he was in Toronto for speaking engagements promoting his bestselling memoir, Red Notice, which was released earlier this year. He said they discussed her party's commitment to bringing in Magnitsky legislation similar to the bill passed in the U.S.
"We had a nice conversation in which she said she was quite proud of [the Liberal pledge to bring in Magnitsky legislation] and that she intended to follow through on that, whether she was in the backbench or in the cabinet," Mr. Browder said.
Ms. Freeland, a former senior editor of The Globe and Mail, was a correspondent in Moscow for the Financial Times when Mr. Browder's hedge fund was active in Russia. He counts her as a friend.
In his memoir, which he's shopping around in Hollywood hoping for a film deal, he describes her as an "attractive brunette" with a "zealous fire in her belly." He also describes how she warned him that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had issued a veiled threat against Mr. Browder in 2013.
Ms. Freeland, who is of Ukrainian heritage, was one of 13 Canadian officials who were subject to sanctions issued by the Kremlin, which banned her from travel to Russia last year in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on Russian officials close to Mr. Putin after the seizure of Crimea.
Mr. Browder said on Wednesday that while many in the West remain insufficiently jaundiced about Mr. Putin's Russia, Ms. Freeland "probably has the most realistic perspective on Putin and what Russia's all about of any government official I know anywhere."