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Investment Firm CEO: Russian Officials 'Involved In Fraud Coverup'

British investor William Browder of Hermitage Capital Management

British investor William Browder of Hermitage Capital Management

The head of a Western-based investment company trying to get Russian officials prosecuted for money laundering says information in the case suggests some high-level politicians are involved in the coverup, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Hermitage Capital Managment CEO William Browder told RFE/RL in an interview on April 21 that tens of millions of dollars from a fraudulent tax refund in Russia were pocketed by Russian officials and even police.

"What's so remarkable about it is all this information is out in the public domain and Russian government [officials] -- and it's their money that was stolen...[but] they refuse to do anything about it because they are so busy covering up for the crooked officials that were involved," Browder said. "And you have to wonder how high [up] it goes if with this [incriminating] information they are not willing to do anything."

Browder was speaking one day after Swiss officials announced that an investigation has begun into accusations that Russian tax official Olga Stepanova and her husband were involved in money-laundering through Swiss bank accounts.

The case was opened based on information provided by Browder and attorneys for Hermitage, which operates out of London.

Browder said he received bank documents and other important files from dozens of sources in Russia that he claims show Stepanova and her husband took some $38 million in an illegal $155 million tax refund that was received using documents seized from Hermitage by Russian officials in 2007.

Browder said the couple used the money to buy large properties and homes in Dubai, Montenegro, and Russia that are worth tens of millions of dollars.

Browder has also published information online that allegedly shows how police officers and other Russian officials involved in the arrest and detention of Sergei Magnitsky -- a lawyer for Hermitage who uncovered the fraud involving the alleged illegal tax refund -- became very wealthy.

Magnitsky died in 2009 in poor conditions while in pretrial detention for tax evasion charges that his supporters say were trumped up.

He had been kept in jail for some 11 months awaiting trial. His family and friends say he was deprived of the proper medical care he needed for some health conditions and that led to his death.

Browder said the incriminating information that was given to Swiss officials was sent to Hermitage by "citizen investigators" in Russia after his company solicited help from people online to provide any information about members "of the criminal groups that were involved in the fraud that Sergei Magnitsky discovered or [those who] were involved in his false imprisonment, torture, and death."

Browder told RFE/RL that his lawyers received lots of bank statements and that they cross-referenced them with documents they had received from law enforcement officials in New York. He said the information showed that the stolen tax refund money "was flowing through a Swiss bank account at Credit Suisse."