Bill Browder, self-described “No. 1 enemy” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, says he has been questioned about “sensitive information which Russia has been asking for” by Swiss border authorities at Geneva airport.
Browder was in Geneva for a human rights summit where he called for Russian sanctions.
Browder told swissinfo.ch that his passport was flagged at about 8 pm Geneva time on Monday when passing through an immigration checkpoint on his way back to the United Kingdom, where he lives. He said he was then pulled aside while an immigration officer made a call and had a “long conversation”.
“I was then asked questions that the Russian government had previously asked other governments who hadn’t cooperated with them,” Browder said. He did not want to disclose the specific nature of the questions but said that “it seems to be a Swiss situation” since his passport was not flagged upon his later arrival in the UK.
Browder believes the Swiss readiness to question him on behalf of Russia is related to “some kind of compromise” over a recent incident involving a Russia expert at the Swiss Federal Office of Police (FEDPOL). The employee was let go and an investigation launched by Swiss authorities after it was revealed he privately travelled to Moscow at the bidding of Russian officials to discuss an unspecified case.
In response for a request for confirmation and further information regarding Browder’s questioning, David Marquis, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, said that “for data protection reasons, [we] do not disclose which persons we have inspected [at the border]. Flights to non-Schengen countries - including the UK - are always subject to identity checks”.
FEDPOL told swissinfo.ch via spokeswoman Lulzana Musliu that "we were not involved in this incident".
swissinfo.ch has also reached out to the Swiss Foreign Affairs Ministry for more information about Browder’s questioning but has not yet received a response.
Browder said he answered Swiss authorities’ questions “truthfully” at Geneva airport, a move he believes could put him at risk in the UK. He was then allowed to continue his journey.
The American-born Browder moved to Russia in 1996 where he ran the investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management, but was later expelled from the country without warning. His lawyer Sergei Magnitsky then exposed the largest tax refund fraud in Russian history involving the theft of Browder’s companies. Magnitsky died in Russian detention, and Browder has been campaigning for so-called “Magnitsky sanctions” against the Russian state ever since to punish its human rights violations. Browder says his efforts have put him in the crosshairs of Putin and the Russian government.
Browder said he has travelled in and out of Switzerland “many times” but that Monday’s incident was the first time his passport had been flagged at the border. In the past, Russian authorities have submitted six Interpol requests for his arrest and made numerous requests to the British government for his extradition and questioning, all of which have been rejected.