While Donald Trump distracted the public with is bizarre behavior, and Anthony Scaramucci grabbed headlines all over the world by swearing and ranting against his new colleagues, one of the most explosive congressional hearings yet in the Trump-Russia probe was taking place before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Wednesday, Bill Browder — once the biggest portfolio investor in Russia but now a leading critic of Vladimir Putin — told the Senate Judiciary Committee how the Russian president needs to lift U.S. sanctions to deliver what he promised to corrupt oligarchs who support his rule.
“There are approximately 10,000 officials in Russia working for Putin who are given instructions to kill, torture, kidnap, extort money from people and seize their property,” Browder testified, according to The Huffington Post.
Browder and his attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, blew the whistle on a scam by corrupt Russian officials to steal one of his companies and then illegally claimed back $230 million taxes he’d paid.
U.S. imposed sanctions in 2012 against some Putin cronies involved in the attorney’s death, which a Russian attorney asked Donald Trump to lift in exchange for campaign assistance offered to his son and other top campaign officials.
“Before the Magnitsky Act, Putin could guarantee them impunity and this system of illegal wealth accumulation worked smoothly,” Browder testified. “However, after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin’s guarantee disappeared.”
Putin himself has suffered great consequences under the Magnitsky Act, the hedge fund manager told lawmakers, because the Panama Papers show Putin received some of the money stolen from the scheme exposed by Magnitsky.
“Based on the language of the Magnitsky Act, this would make Putin personally subject to Magnitsky sanctions,” Browder testified.
“This is particularly worrying for Putin, because he is one of the richest men in the world,” he continued. “I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power.”
Browder then dropped the hammer, just hours after Trump surprisingly announced a ban on transgender service members.
“(Putin) keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation,” Browder testified. “Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.”
The testimony received less coverage than other hearings because it came after Trump’s raunchy speech to Boy Scouts and a day ahead of a profane rant by new communications chief Anthony Scaramucci.