Putin critic says he's a dead man if US hands him over

Browder helped uncover massive financial fraud


Bill Browder

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Bill Browder, an American-born financier who's a prominent critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that he wants President Donald Trump to know that turning him over to Russia would amount to a death sentence.

"To hand me over to Putin is basically to hand me over to my death," Browder said during an interview when CNN's Kate Bolduan asked him on "At This Hour" what he would say to Trump if he had the opportunity.

Putin mentioned Browder by name on Monday at a news conference with Trump in Helsinki, Finland, where the Russian President suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators come to Russia to question the two dozen Russians who have been charged with interfering in the 2016 presidential election. But in return, Putin said, he would expect the US to allow Russian investigators to question what he called fugitives on American soil.

The White House said later Thursday that Trump now disagrees with the proposal, despite the fact that a day earlier the White House had indicated it was entertaining the idea.

Speaking in an interview later Thursday on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront," Browder said he could "hardly" call the White House statement a victory given the time it was under consideration.

"Having said that, I never actually believed that when push came to shove and when the system got into gear that it would ever happen," Browder said, noting the Senate vote earlier in the day condemning Putin's proposal.

And in the CNN interview ahead of the White House statement, Browder had noted how gravely he viewed a potential handover to Russia.

"What the Russians have said very clearly on a number of occasions is they'd like to get me back to Russia ... and once I'm back in Russia, they would like to kill me. Anything that begins that process is effectively a death sentence for me," Browder said.

Browder, who pushed for the passage of legislation to sanction Russian officials over human rights abuses known as the Magnitsky Act, said Thursday he believes he is "Putin's No. 1 foreign enemy."

Browder grew up in Chicago but gave up his citizenship nearly 20 years ago and is now a British citizen. One of his colleagues uncovered a massive tax fraud scheme in Russia that was prosecuted in US courts. But Putin has accused Browder of perpetrating the fraud, which Browder denies. Browder was tried in absentia and sentenced to prison in Russia, making him a fugitive of Russian law enforcement.

In response to a question in the interview about how concerned he is over the proposal, Browder suggested he does not expect that US law enforcement would turn him over to Russia.

"The United States has very clear laws in relation to mutual legal assistance with Russia, in relation to extradition with Russia and various other things," he said. "You have agencies that operate on those laws, and I don't think that there are going to be people who work in the apparatus of the law enforcement agencies of the United States that are going to be going along with a dirty deal with Putin."

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