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William Browder

A court in Moscow has sentenced Hermitage Capital head William Browder to nine years in prison in absentia after finding him guilty of deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion.

Browder, who has led a global push for sanctions against Russian officials implicated in the death of imprisoned Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, also was fined 200,000 rubles (about $3,500) and banned from conducting business activities in Russia for three years.

Browder’s co-defendant, Ivan Cherkasov, received an eight-year prison term in absentia.

In a separate civil lawsuit, the Tver district court also ordered authorities to seize 4.3 billion rubles (about $75 million) in assets from Browder and Cherkasov as compensation for losses that prosecutors say were sustained by the Russian state.

Lawyers for Browder and Cherkasov said they will appeal the court's rulings.

Both Browder and Cherkasov now live in the United Kingdom.

Browder has repeatedly dismissed allegations against him as baseless, politically motivated, and revenge for his work to encourage countries to pass legislation similiar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russians alleged to be involved in the death of whistle-blowing accountant Magnitsky.

In a Twitter posting on December 29, Browder wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin "is so mad at me. After I got 5 countries to implement Magnitsky sanctions, today a Russian court sentenced me to 9 years in prison. Prosecutor announced a 6th application to Interpol to have me arrested and extradited to Russia."

"Russia is applying to Interpol for the 6th time for my arrest after the previous 5 requests were rejected as illegitimate and political. It's time for Interpol to suspend Russia’s membership for flagrant abuse of the Interpol system," he added in a following tweet.

The British government has rejected Russian requests for his arrest and extradition.

Browder, who founded Hermitage Capital, was Russia’s largest portfolio investor until he fled the country in 2005.

Russia's government has applied pressure on Browder in an international campaign challenging the U.S. Magnitsky Act.

Russia’s government has applied pressure on Browder in an international campaign challenging the U.S. Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russians alleged to be involved in the death of whistle-blowing accountant Magnitsky.

Magnitsky, who worked for Browder, accused Russian law enforcement and tax officials of a massive tax fraud scheme prior to his November 2009 death in a notorious Moscow jail.

Magnitsky’s family and friends say he was tortured, beaten, and denied critical medical treatment shortly before he died.

In 2013, a Moscow court tried Browder in absentia and tried Magnitsky posthumously on tax evasion charges.

Browder was then found guilty and sentenced to nine years in absentia.

Magnitsky was found guilty of tax evasion posthumously.

With reporting by AP, Rapsinews, and Interfax
Andrei Rudomakha being detained in Sochi in 2013

Unknown assailants have severely beaten and hospitalized an environmental activist in Russia's southwestern city of Krasnodar after he filmed illegal construction of a luxury mansion on the Black Sea coast.

Activist Andrei Rudomakha, head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus in southern Russia, suffered skull fractures, a broken nose, and a moderate concussion when he was beaten by three masked men late on December 28.

A colleague posted a photo of Rudomakha after the attack:

Activist Aleksandr Savelyev, who was present at the time of the attack, said Rudomakha and other members of his nongovernmental organization had just returned from the Black Sea coast and were near a house owned by one of the group members when the attack occurred.

"Their goal was to collect the material that we filmed," Savelyev said on December 29, adding that the attackers could not have known where to wait without information provided by police or security services.

"They ran from behind, sprayed [Rudomakha] with pepper spray, then knocked him to the ground and kicked him in the face," Savelyev said.

"They took our backpacks and three cameras" along with laptops and footage of the illegal construction activity, he said.

Savelyev said the residence the group was inspecting is being built without a permit in a coastal forest area near a luxury property that has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"They fenced off the forest," Savelyev said. "There is construction equipment, dogs, security guards. It's all very serious."

Savelyev said his group is convinced the new construction is for a senior official in the Russian government.

Krasnodar Krai regional police said they are investigating the attack.

Since 1997, Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus has exposed illegal landfills, the destruction of landscapes, and the contamination of waterways in the regions of Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, Rostov, Adygea, Karachayevo-Cherkesia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Some of their investigations also have exposed illegal land grabs by local Russian officials.

The group has actively campaigned against illegally built villas on the Black Sea and criticized construction in Sochi ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics as destructive to the environment.

Activists in the group have been attacked in the past. One former member, Yevgeny Vitishko, spent nearly two years in prison on charges of damaging a fence in a forest.

In September 2016, Russia's Justice Ministry declared that the group's activities are political and added the organization to Russia's registry of foreign agents.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Interfax

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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