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The truth of the one, the truth of the other and the truth

The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes
Regissør: Andrei Nekrasov

Were Norwegian documentary filmmakers tricked? Ny Tid investigates the allegations in a controversial film that NRK is now considering showing. 


[We refer to the Press's professional selection cast else in connection with this article.]


The Norwegian-produced documentary The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes has created great debates. The film is about the Russian lawyer and announcer Sergei Magnitsky, who in 2008 died in Russian prison awaiting trial. Magnitsky revealed that people in the Russian Interior Ministry with the help of police stole billions of tax dollars.

The film is directed by Andrei Nekrasov and produced by the Norwegian company Piraya Film, and is financed with funding from the Norwegian Film Institute (3,4 million). In short, the documentary raises doubts about Sergei Magnitsky's role in the case, suggesting that Magnitsky himself was involved in the million dollars.

"Many falsehoods." Magnitsky worked for William "Bill" Browder, a hedge fund billionaire from the United States who established himself as an investor in Russia in the 1990s with the firm Hermitage Capital Management. It was when Magnitsky worked for Browder that together they uncovered tax evasion of NOK 1,8 billion – of which a large proportion has been transferred to tax havens and western countries, to real estate and other assets.

Magnitsky believed that after several searches of the offices of Hermitage Capital Management's Russia offices, Russian police handed over seized documents to organized criminals, who in turn used the material to take over three of Hermitage's Russian companies – and thus recovered $ 1,8 billion in previously paid taxes from the companies.

The staging of the abuse in the prison. © Piraya movie.

The widow after Sergei Magnitsky excludes Magnitsky himself from being involved in the scam:

"Sergei always followed the law, both personally and professionally. He used to say that he would not take clients if they were against the law. "I am sure that Sergei felt safe precisely because he did not break any laws," the widow Natalya Zharikova told Ny Tid. "He realized that the clients in Russia might need him, he saw it as his duty, and therefore he chose to stay. He could not predict what would happen to him, "she says.

After her husband's death, Natalya Zharikova moved with her son to England, where she works with the "Justice for Sergey" campaign to cleanse her husband's name. The case has aroused strong reactions, and led, among other things, to the introduction of the "Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act" in the United States in 2012. This law prevents key Russian actors in the case of entry into the United States, and thus angered the Russian authorities – who responded by withdrawing from several agreements with the United States.

"During the funeral, we saw extensive marks on his body that they had failed to cover even though he was makeup."

The widow Zharikova is strongly critical of The Magnitsky Act, and believes the movie presents many falsehoods about her husband:

"I don't know more than others, but the official reports show that he was found dead with bruises on his body, and that before he died there were eight people inside his cell with batons; that he was handcuffed and beaten. During the funeral, we saw extensive marks on his body that they had failed to cover, even though he was makeup. The first death certificate claimed he had serious head injuries when found. What do you really think about something like that? ”Says Zahrikova. In 2013, she urged the British authorities to impose the same sanctions the United States has imposed on those involved in the case.

Bill Broder and Andrei Nekrasov. © Piraya movie.

Think the movie is lying. Bill Browder, who has been denied access to Russia, claims that the film is part of Putin's and Russia's propaganda war against the West. He stepped in early to stop screening the film, which led to the Short Film Festival in Grimstad last summer taking the film off the program, for fear of legal action from Browder. A scheduled screening in the European Parliament was also halted, apparently also by Bill Browder. While the film claims to reveal important details about the Magnitsky case, the film's critics believe that director Andrei Nekrasov intentionally presents a false picture of what happened before and after Magnitsky was found dead in prison.

"I think people with close ties to the Russian authorities paid Nekrasov to make the film," says Bill Browder when Ny Tid talks to him. "I do not see any other reason why Nekrasov should make a false story about Sergei Magnitsky. "Since Magnitsky was assassinated, I have dedicated my life to the 'Justice for Sergei' campaign, to shed light on the murder, money laundering and international crime – and to bring justice to Sergei Magnitsky," said Browder.

He has no evidence of the allegations he makes about Nekrasov, and says he does not know in what form the money was paid. Nekrasov has also previously denied to other media that he has received payment from Russian sources to make the film. However, Browder maintains that Nekrasov was bribed to make the documentary:

"From Putin's view of Nekrasov, who has previously made important films critical of Putin and Russia, he is the perfect filmmaker to legitimize this story," says Browder.

Meets criticism. Director Nekrasov was sentenced in 2013 to repay nearly 700 Norwegian kroner to The Hudson Institute – according to Browder – because the film Age of Delirium, for which he had been given funds, was never made. Browder believes Russian authorities discovered that Nekrasov had financial problems, and thus saw his cut to bribe the award-winning filmmaker:

“False news, or deliberate disinformation, is a new phenomenon in Russia. There is a tradition of creating false stories with the purpose of covering up crime committed by the state, ”Bowder says. "My theory is that Russian authorities offered Nekrasov a good financial deal when they found out he had financial problems. No one will suspect him of taking Putin's side, ”he says.

"I think people with close ties to Russian authorities paid Nekrasov to make the film.»

Several have criticized Browder's efforts to stop the film. He has been accused of trying to put a damper on freedom of speech and the press. But Browder does not agree with the criticism directed at him. "Those who criticize me for trying to stop the film have a very simple view of right and wrong. On the one hand, you have freedom of speech as a total size. On the other hand is the Magnitsky family's need to maintain the reputation of a beloved father, son and husband. To say that freedom of speech is more important here is like asserting that Breivik's right to show the Nazi salute in court is more important than showing respect to the family of the victims of the terror, "said Browder, who had meetings with Trine Skei Grande last year about the content of the film.

But what about the money? In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project succeeded in tracking some of the money to a company owned by Denis Katsyv. He is the son of former Moscow Transport Minister Petr Katsyv. The money had been invested in a real estate company that bought luxury apartments. Gunnar Ekløve-Slydal is the Assistant Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, who has long been involved in the case. He does not rule out that some of the money may have ended up in Norway:

"Here we are talking about a large share of 1,8 billion kroner has been transferred to tax havens and western countries, to properties and other assets," says Ekløve-Slydal to Ny Tid. "The cash flows are traced to three huge transfers from two tax offices in Moscow to bank accounts in dubious Russian banks. Then the money is passed on to Switzerland, Panama and a number of other countries. It cannot be ruled out that some of the money has come to Norway. It can be documented that several properties in Manhattan were bought for Magnitsky money, "he says. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was last year sued by the film company Piraya for theft and theft after they were sent a link with an earlier version of The Magnitsky Act. Ekløve-Slydal does not support the film's presentation of Magnitsky, but does not agree with Browder that the film should not be shown:

"We didn't go out to see the movie. Our main line is to be able to show controversial films, thus facilitating an open discussion on the topic, ”he says. "The film has clearly contributed to increased interest in the Magnitsky case in Norway. However, it is made in a way that only puts Browder, Magnitsky and those who support their version of the case in a bad light. We think it is bad journalism when Nekrasov has neither asked critical questions to the other actors in the case nor dealt with interview objects he disagrees with in a fair way, ”says Ekløve-Slydal.

A bigger problem complex. In May, the Helsinki Committee will hold a hearing in which Magnitsky's story and the revelations he provided are a theme. The hearing was scheduled to be held in February, but has been postponed until May. Freitt Ord supports the event on condition that there is an agreement between the Helsinki Committee and the Piraya Film regarding the hearing.

Ekløve-Slydal emphasizes that it is highly critical that the case was not investigated in Russia, and believes it is a defeat for a state when those who report a scandal of this magnitude are mistreated and killed in prison:

"One of the reasons we want to organize this hearing is that we believe there is a need to shed light on the complex of problems that consist of corruption, human rights abuses against whistleblowers and subsequent money laundering in Western countries," he says. "It is not uncommon for whistleblowers in authoritarian states to go to prison and be subjected to inhuman treatment. Magnitsky is a symbol of this, but it is important that we also raise our eyes and look at other issues. This is not a problem we can be passive to. We want a debate on how to deal with a complex problem. So far, the debate over the Magnitsky film has been about freedom of speech, whether to show it or not. However, it is important to go more in-depth and look at what the Magnitsky case is really about, ”says Ekløve-Slydal.

Coffee process. The leader of the Liberal Party, Trine Skei Grande, has also been involved in the Magnitsky case. She says to Ny Tid:

"I'm not opposed to the movie, it must be able to come up with all its expressions. What amazes me in this matter is that so many accept the image of the filmmaker just because he has been a bit skeptical of Russia before, ”says Skei Grande. "Many things in this film have turned out to be wrong, and I have been critical that we use public funding for something I perceive as a propaganda film for Russian reality understanding. When we know how much the truth is needed to win public opinion both in the Western world and in Russia, we must be critical – and this is a chopping process. So here we have a man who is subjected to murder on orders from a state, and then he happens to have a friend who has the resources to run the case. It doesn't make matters worse, "says the leader of the Left.

"I am critical that we use public funding for something I perceive as a propaganda film for Russian reality understanding."
- Trine Skei Grande

Freedom of speech. Former consultant at the Norwegian Film Institute (NFI) Kristine Ann Skaret handled the application in advance of the film production. She insists that the granting of support is correct, and believes it is worrying that Norwegian politicians think something about which films should receive support and not:

"To say that we support Russian propaganda is a very serious accusation. We as film consultants can not be controlled by sitting politicians, "she says to Ny Tid. "In Norway, we have always operated according to the 'arm's length distance' principle, and we should continue to do so. It is very unfortunate for freedom of expression if politicians are to start interfering in film professional assessments made by professional consultants. " Skaret emphasizes that it is in the nature of the process documentary that it can change along the way.

"I was the one who approved both the application and the rough cut of the film, and I would strongly deny that the NFI has been deceived. My job is to assess the cinematic qualities of films that are sought after, and I consider both Piraya Film and Nekrasov as solid filmmakers, ”says Skaret.

But what do you think of those who go out and claim that the movie is fake?

"It's not a film consultant's job to decide what's true and not. As long as a journalist finds information that he or she thinks is interesting, I believe this should be tested. In the name of freedom of speech, everyone has the right to tell what he or she thinks is true – it becomes difficult if one person refuses another to tell their version of the truth. If a rich man can prevent films from being shown, there is a big problem for freedom of speech, ”says Skaret.

The previous movie Justice for Sergei is available online.

See the studies: "Was exposed to hacker attacks" og «Magnitsky Acts Alternative Facts»

Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Former journalist for MODERN TIMES.

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