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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Has No Answers in Browder Visa Case

STRELNA, Leningrad Region -- President Vladimir Putin said he did not know why Bill Browder, CEO of Russia's largest portfolio investor Hermitage Capital Management, had been refused entry to Russia, a case that has sparked concern over apparent arbitrary action by the Kremlin.

"To be honest, I don't know why this particular person has been refused entry to Russia. I can imagine that this person has broken the laws of our country, and if others do the same we'll refuse them entry, too," Putin replied heatedly to a question about the case late Sunday.

Browder, who has gained a reputation as a crusader for minority shareholder rights, was barred entry to Russia last November on grounds he posed a threat to national security.

Browder has battled with state-controlled gas behemoth Gazprom over inflated corporate spending and nontransparent gas trading deals. He also clashed recently with Kremlin-linked oil major Surgutneftegaz over its murky ownership schemes. Hermitage manages about $4 billion in funds invested in Russia.

The Kremlin has refused to comment in the past on the reasons for declaring Browder a security threat.

Browder said Monday that he had never broken any Russian laws. He cited a letter from the military prosecutors' office dated April 27, which stated that no criminal investigation had been instigated against him.

"The military prosecutor's office for the border authorities and border troops of the Federal Security Service in the Central Federal District has no record of any kind of investigation concerning you being conducted by the authorities," states the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Moscow Times.

It is not clear why this particular branch of the FSB replied to Browder's inquiry.

Browder's case has sparked concern in diplomatic and investment circles. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw has raised his case on several occasions with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Browder has also enlisted three senators and the head of the London Stock exchange to plead his cause. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senators John McCain and Charles Schumer wrote to U.S. President George W. Bush on the eve of the G8 summit asking him to raise the case with Putin.

Putin said fears that barring investors like Browder could deter foreign investment were groundless. "We are extremely interested not only in attracting investment but also in working with decent, professional investors, who really want to work in Russia on a long-term basis," Putin told reporters.