DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Kremlin critic Bill Browder wants governments to step up efforts to get to riches squirreled away by Russian oligarchs linked to President Vladimir Putin by forcing accountants, lawyers and others who set up murky legal and financial structures to become whistleblowers.
Browder, author of the nonfiction best-seller “Freezing Order: “A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath,” says Russia’s war in Ukraine has raised the focus on how the oligarchs are custodians of the Russian leader’s wealth.
He told The Associated Press on Tuesday at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos that “oligarchs are not naïve.” He says they have lawyers, asset protection specialists and shell companies.
The founder of Heritage Capital, an early investor in post-Soviet Russia, Browder raised the alarm after his Russian tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009.
Browder credited U.S. efforts to put a squeeze on the Kremlin since the war began, by putting a freeze on the assets of Russia’s central bank, chasing the oligarchs, halting exports of technology to Russia and supplying weapons to Ukraine.
But when it comes to getting Russian oligarchs’ money, Browder says “we’re only scratching the surface.”
Citing a “quite radical” solution, Browder says “what would solve the problem … is to force the people who set up these structures, the enablers, the lawyers, the accountants, the trustees under law to become whistleblowers for the government.”
He says such an amendment to money laundering and sanctions laws should come with fines and imprisonment.
The European Union’s top official said the 27-nation bloc should avoid becoming dependent to untrustworthy countries, like it did with fossil fuels from Russia, as it moves toward a greener economy with the need to find crucial raw materials.
Speaking Tuesday at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the “economies of the future” will no longer rely on oil and coal.
She says the green and digital transitions will increase the need for materials like lithium and silicon metal required for batteries, chips, electric vehicles or wind turbines.
The head of the EU’s executive arm says “we rely on a handful of producers in the world. So, we must avoid falling into the same trap as with oil and gas.”
Von der Leyen said the EU has secured materials partnerships with countries like Canada.
She added that the war in Ukraine has strengthened Europe’s determination to quickly get rid of Russian fossil fuels. EU countries have approved an embargo on coal from Russia but has yet to find a deal on sanctions targeting oil.
The head of the European Union’s executive arm says Russia’s war in Ukraine should end with a “strategic failure” for the invading country as she pledged Tuesday that the bloc will continue to invest massively in support of the war-torn nation.
In addition to the economic sanctions imposed on Russia and the military aid provided to Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the 27-nation EU has proposed over 10 billion euros in macro-financial assistance, the largest package ever offered to a third country.
She said the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering that the EU is “mobilizing our full economic power" and “we will, hand in hand, help Ukraine rise from the ashes.”
Von der Leyen added that reconstruction efforts also should aim to modernize Ukraine’s administration. It will be required if the country wants to join the 27-nation bloc in the future.
She says the reforms should “firmly establish the rule of law and the independence of (Ukraine’s) judiciary” and help tackle corruption.
The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering is resuming for a second day, with business leaders, government officials, representatives from global institutions and journalists gearing up for more panel talks and networking at the exclusive meeting in the Swiss Alps.
Tuesday’s agenda in Davos is packed with sessions on one of the meeting’s key themes — climate change. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is due to make an appearance.
There also will be addresses by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Meanwhile, outside the conference venue, a Ukrainian activist was planning a street performance to urge foreign energy companies to stop doing business with Russia.
Later, billionaire financier George Soros is hosting a dinner for media — a non-official forum event but a fixture outside the Davos meeting.