- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2017

The Trump administration says it has approved the travel permit for Bill Browder, an anti-corruption crusader who Russia had tried to blacklist through an Interpol database in what he says is retaliation for exposing Moscow’s dirty secrets.

Mr. Browder, an American-born British citizen, complained Monday that he’d tried last week to book a flight from the United Kingdom to the U.S. but had been blocked because his travel permit had been suspended after Russia did an end run around usual Interpol rules and got him blacklisted.

Customs and Border Protection, however, said that his permit was “manually approved” on Oct. 18, and he remains eligible to travel to the U.S.

The situation had sparked intense interest on Capitol Hill, where both Democrats and Republicans had urged the administration to clear up the matter, saying the U.S. shouldn’t allow Russia to wield a veto over American admissions policy.

“This decision harms American credibility on the world stage, and it is unacceptable,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a letter to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. “I expect that you will remedy this error at once and explain to me and other lawmakers why this happened in the first place.”

Mr. Browder himself took to television to complain about his treatment.

“I did it online, I booked a flight, tried to check in, and they said there was a problem with my visa, and the problem with my visa was then discovered based on this Interpol notice,” he told MSNBC.

He said that Russia has repeatedly tried to get him listed in a database maintained by Interpol, the international police cooperation authority, and each time had failed. This time, he said, Russia managed to get him on the list outside of usual procedures, using what’s known as a “diffusion notice.”

Mr. Browder has been vocal in criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he used to employ Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in a Russian jail after exposing massive fraud in the Moscow regime.

The U.S., at the urging of Mr. Browder, passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 denying travel permits to top Russian officials and freezing them out of the U.S. banking system. After it was enacted, Mr. Putin stopped American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation.

Russia has recently retaliated with more charges against Mr. Browder, including now accusing him of being part of the murder of Magnitsky, his former employee.

“Couldn’t get more absurd,” Mr. Browder said on Twitter this weekend.

As a British citizen, Mr. Browder is eligible to travel under the visa waiver program, which facilitates visa-free travel from certain trusted foreign partner countries.

CBP, which runs the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which facilitates visa-waiver travel, says those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and when derogatory information pops up — such as in an Interpol database — officials will do a manual review.

“Applications being manually reviewed may temporarily be placed in a pending status until a final determination is made,” the agency said. “William Browder’s ESTA remains valid for travel to the United States. His ESTA was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18 — clearing him for travel to the United States.”

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