By Jerry Alatalo
he highly controversial death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison in 2009 is the focus of the film “The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes”, released to the public in 2016 by director Andrei Nekrasov – literally censored in every nation (but Norway), region and locale in the Western world. People might ask themselves why a film which puts forward a different narrative than that used by U.S. politicians to pass the Magnitsky Act in late 2012 has suffered from near unanimous censorship, especially when made by Mr. Nekrasov, an artist/activist whose previous efforts in Russia were in opposition to government policies.
Perhaps Arizona Senator John McCain, one of the leaders in drafting and passing the Magnitsky Act, with Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin and others, would welcome a Senate screening of director Nekrasov’s film, as the Arizona senator and his colleagues surely believe in free speech. What could incentivise any U.S. government elected representative to oppose bringing director Nekrasov’s film to the awareness of the American people, surely a “win-win” proposition – for, on one hand, it exposes a very serious coverup, or, however, it exposes the uncomfortable, equally serious, necessary truth.
Mr. McCain has on many occasions since 2009 referenced Sergei Magnitisky on the floor of the United States Senate, recently on the seventh anniversary of Magnitsky’s death (captured in the screenshot above). Most men and women feel appreciative when provided information which corrects previously strongly held, but erroneous, perceptions. The sole avenue for determining if the information presented in the West-censored film “The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes” is the truth, leading to potentially tremendous-in-scope, beneficially corrected perceptions – is by allowing people everywhere to simply view it.
For some context, here is what Russia’s Vladimir Putin said in late 2012, after the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, in response to a reporter’s (lengthy) question during an annual news conference of 4-hours and 30-minutes. His exchange with a Russian reporter representing the Los Angeles Times came at slightly past the 4-hour mark.
Vladimir Putin: “Here is our colleague, his sign says Los Angeles – he was so angry that he did not get a chance to speak. Let’s not provoke him anymore. Please, go ahead.”
Reporter: “Dear Mr. President, I am Sergei Loiko, Los Angeles Times. … But coming back to today’s main topic, we could say that in 2009 Sergei Magnitsky found himself in 1937. … 1,500 orphans, whom State Duma deputies’ initiated draft bill prohibiting U.S. citizens from adopting Russia(n) children, of which (2012) 49 are seriously ill with American families ready to take them in.”
“You will agree with me that in any case these children will be better off in America than in an orphanage. My question is as follows. I’m going back to Sergei Magnitsky, because you talked about him yourself. Russia has had three years to resolve the case but this did not happen. And in that event (case resolved) there would have been no Magnitsky List, you would not have quarreled with the U.S., the children would have gone to America, and everyone would be satisfied and happy. But there has been no satisfactory answer. Why not?”
“You demonstrate a remarkable awareness of other high-profile criminal cases, which I will not name. I would like to hear your answer to the question about the $230 million that allegedly customs inspectors and the police – militiamen, as they used to be called – stole from the budget. These funds could have been used to rebuild beautiful children’s homes, and Mr. Medvedev would not have had to assert in vain that we should do something”.
“If we had already done something, we would have been able to keep our orphanages in normal conditions. What happened to Sergei Magnitsky? Why did he find himself in 1937? Well, this is not the case for everyone. But why does 1937 keep merging with our lives?”
Vladimir Putin: “Regarding Magnitsky… (Applause) Why are you applauding?”
Reply: We like the question.
“You liked the question, fine. When Mr. Magnitsky’s tragedy occurred, I myself was Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. I learned about this tragedy from the media. And to be quite honest, even today I do not know the details surrounding this person’s tragic death in custody. But of course I feel that I have to find out more”.
“But that is not the issue. I want you to listen, too. I understand that you work for the Los Angeles Times, and not for Pravda or Izvestia, and that you have to take a certain position. I want our position to be clear. Mr. Magnitsky personally is not the issue at stake. The issue is that U.S. lawmakers, having got rid of one anti-Russian, anti-Soviet act – the Jackson-Vanik Amendment (and they were forced to do so for economic reasons) – decided they would pass another anti-Russian act immediately. So we understood it as U.S. lawmakers making clear to us ‘who’s the boss here’, and keeping a certain level of tension”.
“If Magnitsky did not exist, they’d have found another pretext. That’s what upsets us. This is the first thing. Second. I don’t know the details, but I am nevertheless aware of the fact that Mr. Magnitsky did not die of torture. Nobody tortured him, he died of a heart attack”.
“The inquiry into his case is set to establish whether he received or didn’t receive medical assistance in due time. If a person is denied assistance, especially in a public institution, of course we must figure out what happened. This is the second thing. Third. Do you think that no one ever dies in American jails, or what? Of course they do. And so what? Must we make a story of each and every case?”
“Do you know how many people U.S. law enforcement agencies seize around the world in violation of national jurisdictions, drag them off to their prisons, and try them there? Is this normal? I don’t think so. I’ve already questioned once: Why does one country feel entitled to extend its jurisdiction to the entire world? This undermines the fundamental principles of international law”.
“In addition, as you know, Mr. Magnitsky was not some human rights activist, he was not fighting for the rights of all. He was a lawyer for Mr. Browder, who our law enforcement agencies suspect of committing economic crimes in Russia, and he was defending Mr. Browder’s interests. Everything connected with this case is extremely politicized, and this is not our fault”.
“Now about the children. I have said many times and I want to repeat again that we are grateful to the American citizens, who have adopted or want to adopt our children, Russian children, Russian citizens from the heart. And they do this very well, they do so in accordance with the highest principles of humanism”.
“You said that these children will be better off in the U.S.. But judging by what we know of certain tragic events, such as the case where a child was left in a car and died of heat stroke – is that better or worse? We know of other cases where children were beaten to death. Is that better or worse? But the issue at stake is not these particular cases; after all, children also die in Russia”.
“The issue at hand concerns official liability for these tragedies. People are exempt from criminal liability, and sometimes the judicial system does not even want to consider these cases. That’s what bothers Russian legislators, and this is what they are reacting to in the well-known draft bill that triggered such a reaction. I repeat: I must look at the details of the law, but in general I understand the mood of the State Duma deputies”.
Moving from late 2012 ahead to 2016 and the release of “The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes”, the film’s director made statements perhaps impossible to ignore in an interview with Russian media group “Komsomolskaya Pravda”:
Author: Roman Golovanov
Translated by: Sergei Malygin
Who Stole a Quarter of a Billion?
Question: Andrei, why did you choose this story for investigation?
Andrei Nekrasov: In the West Magnitsky is known as a whistleblower who paid for it with his life. There is no other version. My movie is a bomb for the West, they did not know the facts. I did not plan to investigate anything. I thought Magnitsky revealed everything and Browder told us about it – I was confined in a simplistic narrative of this complex story. The staging shooting took place in Kiev in the fall of 2014. Even then I started to realize that everything is much more complicated. Browder words were not substantiated. For example, it was not Magnitsky who went to the police with revelations, it was the other way around: the law enforcement called him for questioning in the already existing criminal case.
Question: …You started filming firmly believing in good Browder and bad Russia who killed Magnitsky?
Andrei Nekrasov: Yes, even in the movie Browder’s account remains – searches in his companies, confiscation of documents. Browder’s companies are stolen and it is Magnitsky who goes to the police where he is beaten with batons. That is how our story begins.
Question: What did you come to at the end?
Andrei Nekrasov: This picture has almost nothing to do with Magnitsky’s death. The gist is in three Russian companies Browder owned through offshore companies. These firms paid taxes from sales of Gazprom shares. Then these companies declared that they had losses and the state returned their tax payments – a quarter of a billion dollars – huge money! That is what the crime was. The question was: who controlled the companies when the payments were returned? Browder says that at the time when money was transferred, the companies were already overtaken. But there are suspicions that he is lying, he returned his money through stooges.
Question: Do you have a proof?
Andrei Nekrasov: In the movie I am not accusing him in stealing the money, I do not have direct evidence. But Magnitsky, as an expert, possibly filled out needed documents. I came to the main question – were Browder companies stolen or not? I proved that Browder’s story about Magnitsky is a lie, possibly invented to divert attention from real machinations with huge money. “Rubber baton” turns into “beating”
Question: Who was Magnitsky?
Andrei Nekrasov: He was an accountant and auditor. He could be called a martyr only in comparison with Norwegian prisoners who have comfortable cells. One must not make up a whole fairy tale out of it! Human rights activist Borschev, for example, deliberately wrote in his reports that Magnitsky was kept in “torturous conditions”. When this text was translated into English, this term turned into “torture”. On that basis the US Congress passed “Magnitsky Act”. But that is not true! In another report a “rubber baton” was mentioned which in the process of translation turned into “beating lasting for 1 hour and 18 minutes”. That is a deliberate word play for achieving political purposes.
Question: Then from what Magnitsky died?
Andrei Nekrasov: He died from a heart attack. By the end of his life he had hepatitis, pancreatitis, diabetes, obesity – the whole bunch of diseases. I have sincere sympathy for Sergei and his family, but it is not me who is using his tragedy, it is Mr. Browder. Nobody tormented or tortured Magnitsky. There was a criminal negligence on doctor’s behalf. Even the doctor from the emergency psychiatric help Kornilov, who Browder often cites and who arrived on Magnitsky’s call three hours before his death never mentions signs of beating. In the conclusion made by the Public Oversight Commission, nothing says that Magnitsky was beaten or killed. Some believe that the auditor’s death was beneficial to Browder. There is no proof for that, but it is clear that Russia did not need the murder of accountant.
Question: Are the facts supported by documents?
Andrei Nekrasov: I used public sources. At first, trusting Browder, I used his two sites. All documents are there. I am sure they simply forgot to remove some of the materials. Comparing investigator reports, texts of interrogations, I came to the conclusion that Magnitsky was not killed. Also there was a forensic examination. Browder says that these are unreliable sources, but he quotes them where it is beneficial for him. Frau turns into Fury.
Question: Did Browder lobby Magnitsky Act in the US?
Andrei Nekrasov: Of course he lobbied it, that is the whole point.
Question: Did the movie change you?
Andrei Nekrasov: I was seriously worried about all this. I have developed my attitude towards the Russian government. I sincerely love the country, previously I contributed to its democratization – I was involved in opposition politics, knew Nemtsov, talked with Yashin and Kasyanov. Magnitsky was my hero, next after Litvinenko. I could make a movie in line with this, as intended. But what broke here is not the story itself, it was my understanding of my role in Russian society – it changed. I made serious conclusions and I cannot be silent about it.
Question: Why are there so many scandals around the movie in the West?
Andrei Nekrasov: This especially affected my position. Browder has lawyers in every country. They threaten organizers of screenings and companies who financed my film. But these organizers are all western state-owned, they are not financed privately! One cannot condemn the movie as Russian propaganda! They banned showings in Belgium, threatened German channel, in Norway we could only show the movie on second attempt. In the US there was a closed screening of the movie, but Browder tried to cancel it as well. He has unlimited financial resources, I don’t have money to sue him. I have always criticized Russia for censorship and I remain a critic of the authorities now. But earlier my movies have been banned in Russia, now they are not shown in the West. This is a joke with the truth in it! The most terrifying thing is that Browder can call you a liar and a bastard who is dancing on the remains, he can destroy your reputation, insult your mother. You cannot do anything about it.
Question: Did Browder sue for libel?
Andrei Nekrasov: No, because he would have to discuss details of the story then, give official responses, I think he is afraid of it.
Question: Can your investigation lead to abolishment of the Magnitsky Act?
Andrei Nekrasov: I want politicians who passed the Act to know the truth and to feel ashamed before their voters. Democracy cannot be abused like that! One Bundestag member was a polite, democratic frau, but after I told her about a few inconsistencies in Magnitsky’s case she turned into a fury and called me an FSB agent. To friends their political circle is more important.
Question: You supported Russian opposition and you are not a stranger to them now, but you made such film. Why?
Andrei Nekrasov: It is a problem for me. Friends accused me of some kind of betrayal. When I tell Ilya Yashin that Magnitsky did not investigate anything, he turns facts on their heads in bad faith. Opposition members tell me that the movie was released specifically to abolish anti-Russian sanctions. But I started filming from a different position when there were no sanctions! I thought my friends from the opposition will not exchange the truth. The opposition is good, but when their political circle is more important to them than the truth, that is sad. I have always been a rebel, but they don’t discuss the content of the movie, they just tell me: why did you do that? They are searching for financial motivation. I have a question for the opposition: how could you have such low thoughts? I am very disappointed.
Question: Before you have been filming movies accusing Russia..
Andrew Nekrasov: Yes, they caused a furore in the West – movies about explosions of apartments in Moscow, Litvinenko’s case, the war in Georgia in 2008, wounded and killed children in Chechnya.
Question: Did they have evidence base?
Andrew Nekrasov: I understood them as opposition documentary maker. I am not denouncing these movies, but in Magnitsky’s film I became a detective. I did not do such detailed scrupulous investigation in my earlier movies.
Question: Where do you live? In Russia or in Europe?
Andrew Nekrasov: I live between Germany and Scandinavia. I am completely independent of Moscow professionally and politically. The ideological war goes on.
Question: What topics are you planning to take in the future?
Andrew Nekrasov: Norwegian producers want me to film a sequel about Magnitsky. The West has great prejudices about Russia. When a Western journalist investigates corruption in his country, he must present irrefutable evidence. When it comes to Russia he can refer to an unfounded claim in a blog: courts are corrupt, police are criminals. Proof? Not necessary. Even Magnitsky’s case was built on prejudices. I know how the West thinks, I want to make a movie to dispel these prejudices.
Question: What is going on between the West and Russia right now?
Andrew Nekrasov: An ideological Cold War is taking place. It is happening not only between Russia and the West, but also within the Russian society. I suspect Browder has more allies in Russia than it seems. How could a not elected, private citizen Browder have such a huge political influence? Why? It should concern not only Russia, but I think the West as well.
Unfortunately it is disappointingly difficult to find any lengthy interviews about the film “The Magnitsky Act – Behind The Scenes”, either with the director or anyone else interested in what his censorship-victimized work conveys, reveals, and/or otherwise exposes. If what the director Mr. Nekrasov asserts is accurate, a global push for wide distribution and removing censorship of the film – involving people from all regions – has the potential for effecting timely improvement in U.S.-Russia relations.
If Mr. Nekrasov is speaking honestly, and while considering the amazing level of censorship of his important film in the West, one must seriously acknowledge the possibility information contained in the work is on the level of world-changing. In other words – extremely important. One place to demand the truth is at the doors of those in the U.S. Congress responsible for writing, advocating and passing the Magnitsky Act – in particular, the door of Arizona Senator John McCain.
Another place to act is worldwide through the many readily available channels on the internet.
On the very consequential state of affairs and relations between the United States and Russia… Nothing less than total transparency will do; practicing the greatest possible freedom of speech is paramount. Honoring truth is all that matters.
(Thank you to Russia Insider at YouTube)