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Billionaire raises questions about Putin critic’s mysterious fall

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A U.K.-based billionaire is raising pointed questions about the most recent in a series of mysterious accidents, illnesses and muggings to befall critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin: lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov’s fall from a window of his fourth-floor apartment near Moscow earlier this week.

“People don’t just go falling out of their apartments,” Bill Browder, the American-born CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, told Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga Wednesday. Browder, whose net worth is estimated at around $4 billion, is the grandson of longtime American Communist Party leader Earl Browder, and a former ally turned vocal critic of Putin. He was working with Gorokhov to investigate the 2009 death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison.

Gorokhov, who was injured in the fall but survived, was due to appear in court the following day on behalf of Magnitsky’s family. Magnitsky, who was also a lawyer, was arrested in 2008 after uncovering evidence of massive fraud and corruption by the Russian government.

Browder’s company was allegedly a victim of the fraud that Magnitsky was investigating. According to Browder, Gorokhov had recently obtained leaked emails and WhatsApp messages containing new evidence of collusion between Russian police and organized crime in the Magnitsky case.

He was planning to present those documents in court on Wednesday, “and all of a sudden, a day before that, he drops four stories from his apartment,” said Browder, raising the possibility that the fall wasn’t quite accidental.

According to the official report by Russian state media, Gorokhov and some workmen were attempting to carry a bathtub into his house when a rope snapped. But Browder claims that other witness accounts place the workmen on the ground with the bathtub at the time of the incident.

“What wasn’t mentioned in the report was that there was somebody also up in the apartment with him,” Browder told Golodryga Tuesday. “That’s what we’re suspicious about, what that person’s role was and how he [Gorokhov] ended up going four floors down.”

“There’s a lot of unknowns in this story,” Browder continued, adding that Gorokhov, who Browder said is now conscious and able to talk, “is a big enemy of the Russian regime.”

U.S-born businessman William Browder answers reporters during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris March 3. Browder, a U.S-born British investor who made millions in Russia before his lawyer was imprisoned and died, is calling for an international investigation into the killing of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. (Photo: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)
U.S-born businessman William Browder answers reporters during an interview with the Associated Press in Paris March 3. Browder, a U.S-born British investor who made millions in Russia before his lawyer was imprisoned and died, is calling for an international investigation into the killing of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov. (Photo: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)

Once Russia’s biggest foreign investor, Browder himself was blacklisted by the Kremlin in 2006 for using his company’s investments to expose and interfere in government-sanctioned corporate corruption. Since 2009, he’s been on a mission to get justice for the death of his lawyer, successfully pushing for the passage of the Magnitsky Act by the U.S. Congress in 2012. The act was intended to punish those believed to be responsible for Magnitsky’s death, prohibiting 18 Russian individuals, including several government officials, from entering the U.S. or using the American banking system.

Gorokhov’s mysterious fall is hardly the only Russian-related news dominating headlines this week, Golodryga noted, referring to FBI Director James Comey’s confirmation of an ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as recent reports of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s previous work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Though Browder said he’d never heard of Manafort prior to the U.S. election, he has no doubt about ties between the Russian government and Deripaska, one of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs.

“Whatever he was paying Manafort to do, his interests were effectively the same as the Russian government’s,” Browder said.

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