Our family would like to express an immense gratitude to Bill Browder (Billbrowder), Founding Director, Global Magnitsky Campaign for Justice, Witness U.S. Helsinki Commission and the members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives (@HouseForeignGOP) especially to Christopher Smith (@RepChrisSmith), Edward Royce (@RepEdRoyce) and Paul Cook (@RepPaulCook) as well Mary Anastasia O’Grady(@MaryAnastasiaOG) The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) Americas columnist and editorial board member; that support us in this improbable fight against Putin’s corrupted regime. For one family alone would have never been able to stand a chance against all that evil corruption but with your help human rights are truly defended.
ADVANCING U.S. INTERESTS IN THE
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTEENTH CONGRESS
JULY 11, 2018
Serial No. 115–153
Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS MEMBERS
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
|CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida
DANA ROHRABACHER, California
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio
JOE WILSON, South Carolina
MICHAEL T. MCCAUL, Texas
TED POE, Texas
DARRELL E. ISSA, California
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania
MO BROOKS, Alabama
PAUL COOK, California
SCOTT PERRY, Pennsylvania
RON DESANTIS, Florida
MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina
TED S. YOHO, Florida
ADAM KINZINGER, Illinois
LEE M. ZELDIN, New York
DANIEL M. DONOVAN, JR., New York
F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR.,
ANN WAGNER, Missouri
BRIAN J. MAST, Florida
FRANCIS ROONEY, Florida
BRIAN K. FITZPATRICK, Pennsylvania
THOMAS A. GARRETT, JR., Virginia
JOHN R. CURTIS, Utah
|ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
BRAD SHERMAN, California
GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
KAREN BASS, California
WILLIAM R. KEATING, Massachusetts
DAVID N. CICILLINE, Rhode Island
AMI BERA, California
LOIS FRANKEL, Florida
TULSI GABBARD, Hawaii
JOAQUIN CASTRO, Texas
ROBIN L. KELLY, Illinois
BRENDAN F. BOYLE, Pennsylvania
DINA TITUS, Nevada
NORMA J. TORRES, California
BRADLEY SCOTT SCHNEIDER, Illinois
THOMAS R. SUOZZI, New York
ADRIANO ESPAILLAT, New York
TED LIEU, California
AMY PORTER, Chief of Staff THOMAS SHEEHY, Staff Director
JASON STEINBAUM, Democratic Staff Director
The Bitkov Family Case
Audience of International Affairs Committee of the US Senate
11th July 2018
Chairman ROYCE. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, and thank you for your testimony to our two witnesses. On April 27, I chaired a hearing on serious and credible allegations of collusion between CICIG and the Russian Government in the persecution, mistreatment, and incarceration of a Russian family, the Bitkovs, who fled Russia after Putin’s cronies threatened their lives, took away their business, and, of course, the young daughter was raped, Anastasia, who obviously is still dealing with the aftermath of that.
Our prime witness was Bill Browder, the main man, whose tenacity, courage, and credibility led to at least an accountability of what happened to Sergei Magnitsky. It is because of Bill Browder that we have the Magnitsky Act. It is because of Bill Browder that we have the Global Magnitsky Act, so when he speaks, everybody should listen and should listen very carefully, and I share his concerns about the Bitkovs.
Let me just say to my colleagues: In 2013, the Bitkovs fled and finally got to Guatemala under an assumed name. They used documents that were not true, but again, for having documents that weren’t true—and they are true refugees. The Palermo Protocol says you don’t prosecute when somebody is fleeing tyranny and has a well-founded fear of persecution. Igor got 19 years in prison. Irina got 14 years. And Anastasia, 14. Igor spent 3 years in pretrial detention, jail, in a very, very unseemly pattern that CICIG is a part of.
Now my question to our distinguished colleagues today is, one, have you investigated, and has there ever been, is there now any collusion whatsoever between VTB, Gazprombank, Sberbank, or any other person associated with the Russian Government and CICIG, including Ivan Velasquez on any matter relating to the prosecution and incarceration of the Bitkovs?
Second, can you tell us what kind of information do you have?
Is there any accountability? I have asked the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, why aren’t you looking into this? He says they have no authority to do so. He told me that just a few weeks ago when I met with him.
I am asking today, and I will do it by way of letter, that the Inspector General investigate the potential of collusion. My hope is that in an answer to my question, you will say that you have thoroughly investigated this, and you either found it or you didn’t, or to some degree, there is some collusion. Those are my opening questions, and I do have some further ones, but if you can answer that.
Ambassador MERTEN. Thanks for the question. This is an issue that we follow closely. Our Embassy and the Department have looked into these allegations of collusion. Thus far, have found no evidence that that has occurred.
Mr. SMITH. Could you give us details of what that investigation included? I mean, was it done just asking Mr. Velasquez and a few others, ‘‘Hey, is there collusion?’’ Or did you really dig into documents and look into this? I call your attention to this, and we will give you a copy, an excellent piece that was put together by Mr. Bill Browder—this just reeks of collusion, so I would like to know exactly what that investigation entailed.
Ambassador MERTEN. Sure. I look forward to receiving that document, and I think if you allow us to get back to you with exactly what has been done, I think that would be a more effective way of answering your question.
Mr. SMITH. Is there any mechanism for holding CICIG to account? I mean, there is a hold on their $6 million now that has finally gotten their attention. Two days before I had my hearing, the constitutional court found in their favor. Again, we are talking about 19 years, 14 years, 14 years. People don’t get that many years for murder in Guatemala, and CICIG then appealed that ruling and now there is going to be another prosecution of, at least Igor, which is absurd.
I mean, if I was doing that with my family, and I would say the same to you: Wouldn’t you use every means possible to get out of a country that is going after you, hurting your daughter, putting you into prison and maybe even killing you? We have learned that from Sergei Magnitsky, I thought, and many others. We called our hearing the Long Arm of the Russians. Let me ask you again, is there any kind of connection between CICIG and the Russians?
Ambassador MERTEN. Again, thus far in our investigations we have found no collusion between them.
Mr. SMITH. And no contact, no cooperation?
Ambassador MERTEN. The information I have been given we have not received that—we have not seen that. So that is——
Mr. SMITH. Maybe the IG will be able to ferret out that information. Let me ask you about the Guatemalans who are held in pretrial. There is a dual national from Jersey City, Anthony Segura, 3 years in pretrial detention. I know, and I have been in Congress 38 years, Mr. Chairman, and I have been to places like Bolivia where they use prosecution as way of getting political retribution, and certainly, Evo Morales does it better than anybody else on earth. What is your view about these pretrial detentions that go on for years with CICIG’s full complicity in that?
Ambassador MERTEN. Well, pretrial detention is a problem in a number of countries throughout the hemisphere. It is something that we work at in our rule of law programs to get countries to establish mechanisms to reduce or eliminate pretrial detention. I think our work in that area is certainly ongoing. So obviously, it is not a situation we like. We are working in a number of countries to help address that.
Mr. SMITH. Let me just ask you, finally, because my time is running out, Mary Anastasia O’Grady from The Wall Street Journal in her piece, and I invite members to read it, ‘‘Guatemala, Russia and the Bitkovs, The family remains in jeopardy thanks to a U.S.- funded rogue U.N. agency.’’ She points out immediately after the high court decision, CICIG apologists launched a full scale press on Capitol Hill to cover up the U.N. agencies’ many transgressions. How do you respond to that?
Ambassador MERTEN. I am not aware of any such cover-up. If you would like to ask, we can get you more details on what we know on that. I am not aware of that, sir.
Mr. SMITH. So there is no cover-up?
Ambassador MERTEN. I am not aware of a cover-up, sir.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman ROYCE. Thank you. We share the concerns of Mr. Smith. This committee will continue to work with the Senate, the State Department, the U.S., U.N. on reforms that will preserve the essential functions of CICIG while responding to legitimate criticisms of overreach. All right. We go now to Albio Sires of New Jersey
Mr. SIRES. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for hosting this full committee hearing on the Western Hemisphere, and I want to thank our panel that is here today. Thank you very much.
What you just read is the transcript pages 26, 27 and 28 of the Court of International Affairs Committee of the US Senate – 11th July 2018
If you want to read the full transcript in PDF format you can consult the following permanent link
The Bitkov Family Case
Audience of International Affairs Committee of the US Senate
11th July 2018
Chairman ROYCE. Thank you. We go to Mr. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me just make clear for the record that after being unjustly jailed for 3 years, Igor Bitkov and his wife Irina, who spent 3 months unjustly jailed, and their daughter Anastasia, another 3 months for being unjustly jailed, Igor got out on bail, but they were told they are not free. They are under house arrest. I just confirmed it again within the last couple of minutes with their attorney that they are under house arrest. Significantly, on May 23—and I mentioned earlier before in terms of the chronology—2 days before my hearing, which was in this room, the court ruled and allowed them out of jail. That was the constitutional court.
That wasn’t enough for CICIG however. On May 23, CICIG went back to the constitutional court—yet another action against the Bitkovs.
Chairman ROYCE. This would be the third time.
Mr. SMITH. Yes. And so there is a pattern, I think, here. On June 21, the constitutional court, in contrast to its previous decisions, exonerated the Bitkovs under the Palermo Protocol. I remind my colleagues that under Palermo—I mean, we are talking about migrants, these are asylum seekers, a family that was escaping the impunity of Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Article 5 makes clear that migrants shall not become liable to criminal prosecution under the protocol for the fact of having been the object of conduct set forth in Article 6 of the protocol. And then it is clearly pointed out that producing a fraudulent travel or identity document procuring or providing or possessing such a document. So the Palermo Protocol couldn’t be clearer, and anyone who doubts that they were escaping a tyrannical action against them just look at the record, it couldn’t be more clear.
So the constitutional court now has allowed a CICIG action because the Bitkovs got false drivers’ licenses and credit cards. Again, they wanted to change their identity. We have witness protection in this country when someone wants to change their identity in order to escape the mob or the Mafia, in this case the Russian Mafia, and now they are bringing another action. And what is it—
I want to ask with respect, what is the driving force behind CICIG after first being part of an action that got 19 years for Igor, 14 years in prison for his wife, and 14 years in prison for their daughter? I mean, that is what the judge found. That is what the court found. What is the driving obsession here? When you say there has been an investigation and you found no evidence, how deep was that investigation? How much was looked into the Russian connection here?
We know for a fact that thousands of businesswomen and men in Russia routinely have their businesses taken away from them. I cut my eye teeth on Russian human rights issues in 1982 in my first term on a trip to the Soviet Union on behalf of Soviet Refusniks—Jews who wanted to emigrate—including people like Yuli Koshirovsky, great people, who then had all these false charges brought against them and often were sent to psychiatric prisons, or places like Perm Camp 35. I actually visited Perm Camp 35 in the Ural Mountains just a few years later, and heard horror tales of men who had been taken and tortured by the Russians, in that case the Soviets, but now we have a continuation of that, and again, the Russians went looking for the Bitkovs, took them several years, and then they found them, and had a willing partner called CICIG to join in the efforts. It is all laid out in nauseating detail unfortunately, and yet, there are people who suggest that this is an overreach on our part trying to raise these issues.
And I said it before, Bill Browder—he is the subject of unrelenting attacks by the Russian Government, unrelenting. I was in a bilateral at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly as head of the United States delegation these last 5 days in Germany, and at that meeting that was chaired by Pyotr Tolstoy from the Russian side from the Duma was some of the people who had been held to account under the Magnitsky Act in terms of their wrongdoing. They were sitting right at the table and took great umbrage of the Magnitsky Act. They don’t like it. We believe in sanctions. We believe in personalizing them as a way of really trying to inhibit bad behavior and hold to account. But now we have a situation where a family, who is at grave risk in my opinion—their physical safety is my overriding concern. I want to keep them out of prison because I think they have done no wrong. They have done what any of us would do for our families if a gangster group came after us, and certainly changing a passport to a new name, certainly having a driver’s license with a different name, and now CICIG is going after them because of their driver’s license. It begs credulity. It is beyond the pale as to why. Can you tell us why?
Ambassador MERTEN. Sir, I can’t speak to the particularities of how CICIG works internally. I will say in terms of beyond what I told you about the Bitkovs before, our Embassy has engaged with he Guatemalan Government. We have got assurances from them that they will not send the Bitkovs back to Russia.
Chairman ROYCE. If I could interrupt, would the gentleman yield?
Mr. SMITH. There is no extradition.
Chairman ROYCE. How about the son? Since the Russian banks are now asking that the young son, who is maybe under 3 years of age, be returned from Guatemala to Russia, do you have assurances of that, too?
Ambassador MERTEN. I hate to admit this, but you have exhausted my expertise in this subject, and rather than mislead you, I would rather get back to you.
Chairman ROYCE. If the gentleman would yield, Ambassador, I would suggest in a situation where you are looking at, in sentences of 17 years, 14 years for the wife, 14 years for the daughter, who had been, after the bank tried to—after certain individuals in the bank tried to take control of the company, had been abducted and raped in St. Petersburg for 3 days, for her to get 14 years, for the younger son to be in a situation where the Russian Government is trying to have him returned to Russia, and given the past pattern of behavior, you would have to ask yourself when these sentences are longer than sentences for drug trafficking, for murder, for even terrorism in country, there is something a little unusual about the
particulars of this case, and that is why, when I said earlier, we are going to work with U.S. U.N. on investigations here in terms of this set of circumstances, it is, I think, incumbent upon all of us to dig a little deeper and get a little bit more understanding of this case.
And I would ask you to do that and then get back in touch with Chairman Smith and myself and other members of this committee that are interested because at the end of the day, our goal is to have CICIG work effectively. They are in an environment where they are taking on corruption. But the one thing you and I know is that the Russians try to influence the outcome in any case where they go after anyone who tries to flee their government’s control.
And if you ask yourself how far will they go, apparently poison by radiation is not out of bounds. We know of two cases where that was done in the U.K. So when you have an arm of the state, a state bank bringing a case in Guatemala after bringing a case where they had previously—anyway, I have exhausted our time, but I think Chairman Smith made the point, and I would just reiterate it.
At the end of the day, we want CICIG to be effective. For that to happen, we need the reforms in place, but again—and I see Mr. Cook here. Were you seeking time?
Mr. COOK. I came back in because we are planning a trip, as part of my committee, to Guatemala, and obviously this is a huge, huge issue. We are all concerned about it. I know Mrs. Torres, it is some thing that we are concerned and I share the chairman’s feelings about Russia and their history, and, so, this is something that is not going to go away and obviously this is going to be our top agenda when we go down there. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. If I can just conclude, Mr. Chairman, and I thank you for——
Chairman ROYCE. I yield back.
Mr. SMITH [continuing]. Your comments. To the Bitkovs, they live with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head every single day. I mean, they have got very poor treatment in prison. They had a huge, huge SWAT-like team take them to prison in the first place, totally beyond all reason. And what that has done—especially to Anastasia, who was abducted, and this is the way the Russian oligarchy, the Russian leadership works. They go after businessmen and women who are successful to fleece them, and if you don’t play ball, they set examples for certain people. To think that CICIG has anything to do with that absolutely undermines their mandate. Who doesn’t want to get rid of corruption? Every single one of us. But if personnel is policy, which I think it is, and there are any corrupt people within the organization called CICIG, that needs to be weeded out and beyond that, not just weeded out—anyone who is complicit in any of this, that is why I have asked very specific questions about collusion, they need to be prosecuted. And no games. I thank you.
Chairman ROYCE. Okay. With that we thank the witnesses for being with us today, and we stand adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:40 p.m., the committee was adjourned.]
What you just read is the transcript pages 54, 55, 56 and 57 of the Court of International Affairs Committee of the US Senate – 11th July 2018
If you want to read the full transcript in PDF format can be found permanent the following link:
The Bitkov Family Case Hearing
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE on FOREIGN AFFAIRS
We have planned to travel to Guatemala from our committee, we are concerned about this creat bit issue (Case of the Bitkov Family). So this visit is something that is not going to simply and obviously of priority in our agenda. – Senator Paul Cook – Member of the US foreign Affairs Committee
Our family would like to express an immense gratitude to the members of the @HouseForeignGOP especially to @RepChrisSmith @RepEdRoyce @RepPaulCook that support us in this improbable fight against Putin’s corrupted regime. https://t.co/SPkOK1SjXV
— Irina Bitkova (@Irina_Bitkova) July 22, 2019