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Russian TV claims Magnitsky's boss 'spy tainted by death'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Kremlin-run channel has aired a programme attacking the US-born former employer of dead lawyer Sergei Magnitsky for allegedly working for the British secret service and standing to gain from the "mysterious" deaths of his employees.

NTV's assault on Hermitage Capital co-founder Bill Browder -- whose firm was once the biggest investor in Russia -- came a day after police accused him of stealing $70 million in Gazprom stock.

Browder vehemently denied the new accusations and told AFP the programme showed "such a bunch of slanderous nonsense it doesn't even dignify a response."

The late Magnitsky will be standing in Russia's first posthumous trial on Monday -- a case that has inflamed tensions between Russia and the United States.

Magnitsky died in pre-trial detention in 2009 after revealing what he alleged was a huge state tax fraud scheme and being put under investigation by the same officials whom he had accused.

The "Browder List" broadcast late Wednesday on NTV television first alleges that Browder revoked his US citizenship in 1989 to become a British national in oder to spy for London.

"An American getting British citizenship makes no practical sense," said the narrator.

"The only way to explain this is by (Browder's) need to join the state service of Britain. You can only guess what sort of state service this was."

It then alleges that a $4.5-billion IMF loan Russia received in the 1990s that appeared to be misspent ended up being transferred to a bank account owned by Browder's late business partner Edmond Safra.

Safra -- a prominent Brazilian banker of Lebanese origin -- died in 1999 in a fire in Monaco that was determined to be arson.

"When does Safra die? He dies when he begins to give evidence to the FBI about this story," Kremlin-linked political strategist Sergei Kurgunyan told the programme.

"And this one did not die," he added while pointing to a picture of Browder. "And then he begins feverishly striking huge deals."

The programme goes on to allege that this was just the first of many "mysterious deaths of people who in one way or another dealt with Browder."

Browder told AFP that NTV tried to interview him for the programme by posing as journalists for the Qatari-based Al Jazeera network.

Noone has been convicted in Russia for Magnitsky's death and the United States has slapped travel bans on officials implicated in his prosecution, to which Russia retaliated by banning US adoptions.

Browder himself is standing as a co-defendent in Magnitsky's tax evasion trial. He has denied illegally obtaining Gazprom stock for Hermitage Capital.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130307/russian-tv-claims-magnitskys-boss-spy-tainted-death