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Moscow 'upping the ante' as British Putin critic Bill Browder arrested in Spain

A police car is seen outside the police station where British businessman Bill Browder, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was taken to when he was detained and then released by Spanish police in Madrid, May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Relations between Russia and the UK have plunged further into the deep freeze after a prominent British Kremlin critic was arrested in Spain.

Financier Bill Browder was held in Madrid on Wednesday apparently under a Russian arrest warrant over allegations of fraud.

The self-professed "number one enemy" of Vladimir Putin was released around two hours after he was taken by officers to a station in the Spanish capital.

He had travelled to Madrid to speak to a prosecutor who is gathering evidence about the Russian mafia.

Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley called his detention "absurd", while Foreign Affairs Committee member Bob Seely said Moscow was "upping the ante" in going after its critics abroad.

Mr Browder, a US-born British national, claimed this was the sixth time Russia had "abused Interpol" in pursuing him.

He has been a thorn in the side of the Russian authorities for more than a decade after he tried to expose the "looting" of his investments in the country by corrupt officials.

In 2009, Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer he hired to investigate what had happened to his money, died in Russian custody.

Following his death, anti-corruption laws were introduced in a raft of countries including the United States and Canada.

The UK is also staging a crackdown on Russian criminal money dubbed the McMafia laws.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter after Mr Browder's release: "Just spoken to Bill Browder - very glad that he has now been released. Moscow should concentrate on bringing those responsible for the murder of #Magnitsky to justice."

Detailing the events on social media, Mr Browder wrote: "Urgent: Just was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant. Going to the police station right now."

This was followed by a photograph from the back of the police car, with the words: "In the back of the Spanish police car going to the station on the Russian arrest warrant. They won't tell me which station."

Mr Browder then posted a picture of a document linked to his arrest, detailing his legal rights and saying that he had been detained on allegations of fraud.

He said after his release: "Good news. Spanish National Police just released me after Interpol General Secretary in Lyon advised them not to honor the new Russian Interpol Red Notice. This is the 6th time that Russia has abused Interpol in my case."

He said he had travelled to Madrid "to give evidence to senior Spanish anti Russian mafia prosecutor Jose Grinda about the huge amount of money from the Magnitsky case that flowed to Spain. Now that I'm released my mission carries on".

Sir Peter told the Press Association: "It is absurd that a person with British nationality who has been exposing the brutal and fatal treatment of Sergei Magnitsky should be arrested at the request of the Russians.

"The Russian ambassador should be summoned to explain why it is that his country fails to prosecute the murderers of Magnitsky and instead has been for years trying to arrest Bill Browder, who is campaigning for justice and against corruption in Russia."

Tory MP Mr Seely said: "The Kremlin's attempts to go after its critics does not seem to have been diminished by the Skripal poisoning case in Britain. If anything, Moscow seems to be upping the ante.

"We have the World Cup in barely two weeks. You would have thought that the Russian state would wish to avoid controversy. The willingness of the Kremlin to antagonise and challenge - whether it is poisoning in the UK, murder in Kiev (of journalist Arkady Babchenko), or the use of the law in Spain - seems to be undiminished."

In March, Mr Browder told the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he believes the Russian government wants him dead.

He also had links with Russian millionaire Alexander Perepilichnyy, who collapsed and died while jogging near his home in Weybridge, Surrey, in 2012 in mysterious circumstances.

Mr Perepilichnyy had been helping Mr Browder's Hermitage Capital Investment expose a 230 million US dollar (£142 million in November 2012) money-laundering operation.

Copy by Press Association
Photo by Juan Medina from Reuters

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