The Moscow News: American lawyer flees Moscow
February 23, 2010
Jamison Firestone, the colleague of deceased lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, has publicly announced that he will not be returning to his Moscow office as he seeks to battle corruption from London.
The 44 year-old lawyer, who co-founded the Firestone-Duncan law consultancy firm, said he will continue his fight with what he called “Russian police mafia” from London and wouldn’t hide in the British capital.
“Now, being in London, I can expose this, but not have to worry being arrested in the morning, like my partner Sergei Magnitsky, who was dragged to prison and killed,” Firestone told Bloomberg TV.
Magnitsky was representing William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, in a series of tax evasion accusations and counter-accusations against the Interior Ministry. The investment fund, formerly the largest in Russia, claims this is yet more evidence against the ministry.
“What makes this action significant is not one particular decision to leave Russia, but that it represents yet another example of how the Prosecutor General’s Office and Interior Ministry are incapable of fulfilling their stated purpose – protecting the public and safeguarding state funds”, said a representative of Hermitage Capital Management, who asked not to be named.
Firestone’s decision has received the backing of high profile figures in Moscow’s business community.
“This is not the first case and this is not a new issue for foreign businessmen working in Russia, as more people have similar stories and say they were targeted,” said Clemens Grafe, chief economist with the UBS in Moscow. “If I were him, I would do the same.”
Hermitage Capital said that businesses, including themselves, would return to the country “as soon as the rule of law is re-established in Russia” but at the moment the business climate is too dangerous.
“Currently, however, anyone who is investing or doing business in Russia is not only risking their money, but also their lives, as the Sergey Magnitsky story so tragically demonstrated,” said the Hermitage representative.
Others say that while Firestone’s departure has drawn the spotlight back onto the issue, foreign investors were already aware of the case.
“I don’t think the event by itself is a big issue for foreign investment climate,” said Grafe. “But Russian professionals should be even more sensitive to this. Russian people, like Magnitsky, are well educated and they are doing their job, not being political, and still they get affected.”
This view was backed by the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce which said they’ve seen “ups and downs” in 93 years and Firestone leaving “won’t produce a massive negative effect on the investment climate”.
“Administrative burdens on all companies – Russian and foreign – are the problem and more businesses will be coming, not leaving if they found this getting easier,” said the chamber’s director Chris Gilbert.
The US Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, where Firestone used to be on the board of the small business committee, declined to comment but reminded that their president Andrew Sommers wrote a letter to Dmitry Medvedev asking him to intervene in the Magnitsky case.
Firestone also received a less welcome package, which he called a “Christmas gift”, sent to him on behalf of incognito “godfathers”.
“One day I opened my mailbox and I find out … that somebody has applied for a $21 million tax refund, forging my signature,” said Jamison Firestone. “Somebody went to a lot of trouble to make it look like I’m trying to take $21 million from the Russian government. So, I realised at that point where this is coming from; that I’d been a little too loud protesting police corruption, and now the police have a “present” for me, so to speak.”
Article is published in The Moscow News.