British-American investor and rights activist William Browder says U.S. President Donald Trump may have made a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their summit to help Russian law enforcement pursue him.
In posts on Twitter and an op-ed piece in Time magazine on July 17, Browder said Putin wanted access to him, and in exchange is willing to give U.S. law enforcement agencies access to the 12 Russian intelligence agents who were accused last week of hacking and leaking U.S. Democratic Party documents in an effort to bolster Trump's chances in the 2016 election campaign.
"Putin wants to swap 12 Russian GRU agents who hacked the U.S. election for me in his meeting with Trump in Helsinki," Browder said on Twitter. He said Trump appeared to agree with the idea at the summit on July 16 by nodding "approvingly" and later saying he considered it "an incredible offer."
"This is no idle threat. For the last ten years, I've been trying to avoid getting killed by Putin’s regime," said Browder, who has been called "Putin's nemesis" for successfully pushing for so-called Magnitsky laws in a number of Western countries that authorize sanctions against human rights abusers in Russia and other countries.
Browder made his comments as Russian news media reported that the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office was preparing to ask U.S. authorities to interrogate three U.S. intelligence officers and a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, among others, in the presence of Russian prosecutors in connection with Russia's criminal case against Browder.
Browder, who as head of the investment firm Hermitage Capital was once the West's biggest investor in Russia, was found guilty in absentia by a Moscow court in December 2017 of large-scale tax evasion of some 3 billion rubles ($48 million) and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Following Russian news reports that the Kremlin was requesting interrogations of a number of U.S. officials, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul confirmed in a posting on Twitter that he was one of those targeted.
McFaul called on the U.S. State Department to "get on the record right now and push back on these requests. There is no equivalency between the Russian harassment of Bill Browder" and the indictment of Russian intelligence agents by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week.
The State Department, Trump, and the White House have not publicly commented on the matter.
Browder confirmed reports by TASS and other Russian news agencies that Russian prosecutors want to interview U.S. special agents Todd Hyman, Alexander Schwarzman, and Svetlana Angert, all of whom Browder said were involved in investigating a client of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya for alleged money laundering.
Browder said the requests were "part of the Putin-Trump quid pro quo agreed in Helsinki."
The money-laundering case involving the Russian company Prevezon was connected with an alleged tax-fraud scheme uncovered by a Russian whistle-blower named Sergei Magnitsky, who was later detained on allegations of perpetrating the fraud himself.
A Russian court convicted Magnitsky of the fraud a few years after he died in a Moscow prison in November 2009 after alleged beatings and medical negligence.
Magnitsky’s death led to a 2012 U.S. law that targeted Russian officials allegedly involved in the fraud and his death -- a law that outraged the Kremlin but led to the adoption of similar legislation by other Western countries.