Bill Browder calls on EU to act in Georgia as Saakashvili’s health declines – POLITICO
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Billionaire businessman and Kremlin critic Bill Browder focuses on a new target – Georgia – and urges the EU to sanction those responsible for the state of detention of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose health deteriorates rapidly.
In an interview with POLITICO’s EU Confidential podcast, Browder said it was time for the EU to expand the scope of its human rights sanctions to cover people in Georgia.
Saakashvili is a personal enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his case is quickly becoming a barometer of whether the ruling Georgian Dream party in Tbilisi is willing to engage with the EU and US Georgian Dream critics complain that he deliberately sabotages the country’s European aspirations to avoid capsizing the boat with Moscow.
Saakashvili is serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power, and there are growing concerns for his well-being. Medical reports seen by POLITICO late last year revealed traces of “mercury and arsenic” in Saakashvili’s hair and fingernails, and lacerations “all over his body”.
“There needs to be faster action in this case because if nothing is done he will die,” Browder said.
“The Magnitsky sanctions are not Russian sanctions. These are global…this applies globally. And if someone is found to be violating human rights, someone is committing gross human rights violations – which I think is obvious in his case – then the sanctions should apply.
Browder, who through his Hermitage Capital Management fund was once the largest foreign investor in Russia but fell victim to Putin’s regime, led a global campaign to impose asset freezes and sanctions on perpetrators of human rights abuses. The result was the Magnitsky Act, passed in the United States in 2012.
The deed is named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died aged 37 in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing massive fraud. In this case, Browder seeks to gather information on those he believes are poisoning, torturing and preventing Saakashvili from receiving medical treatment.
The European Union has introduced its own Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions regime to sanction human rights abusers – rather than geographic or sectoral sanctions – in 2020.
But Browder says the EU is dragging its feet on sanctions.
“The EU has the fewest people sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act – behind other major countries. It’s a shame. The EU is considered the most humane and moral of all groupings of countries, but they don’t want to respect human rights and they don’t use the Magnitsky law, I think it’s a complete failure on their part not to do that, not to use this tool.
Saakashvili’s fate became a priority after he posted photos on social media showing him looking alarmingly thin and frail. The 55-year-old who was president for nearly a decade has gone on several hunger strikes and says he was poisoned. Georgian authorities claim he is misrepresenting his condition in order to secure an early release.
Earlier this week, Poland offered to send doctors to Tbilisi to examine Saakashvili, but Georgia has yet to comply.
The sharp deterioration in Saakashvili’s health is taking place against a dramatic political backdrop in Georgia, where protesters took to the streets earlier this month to demonstrate against a bill that would force some media and civil society organizations to register as foreign agents. The government eventually suspended the bill, which was criticized by the EU and international organizations.
Georgian Justice Minister Rati Bregadze says Saakashvili’s “radical supporters” are intentionally trying to worsen his health to pave the way for his release. On March 12, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that the European Parliament resolution, which calls on the Georgian government to release Saakashvili for treatment, testified that “Saakashvili is their agent” and that “they are doing everything to save their agent”. and get him out of jail.
“The European Parliament should rather take care of itself. There are 100 MEPs involved in the corruption scandal, why are they telling us what to do? said Garibashvili.
The EU is Georgia’s largest trading partner and contributes more than €100 million annually to Georgia in the form of technical and financial assistance. But the bloc refused to grant the country EU candidate status at a summit last June, even as it gave Moldova and Ukraine the green light, arguing that Tbilisi should implement several reforms, including strengthening the independence of the judiciary.
Dato Parulava contributed reporting.