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Putin critic Bill Browder released after arrest in Spain

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Putin critic Bill Browder released after arrest in Spain

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British businessman Bill Browder, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was briefly detained Wednesday morning by Spanish police on a Russian arrest warrant for alleged fraud.

Browder, who was arrested in Madrid, posted on Twitter: “Urgent: Just was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant. Going to the police station right now."

A few minutes later he sent another tweet: "In the back of the Spanish police car going to the station on the Russian arrest warrant. They won’t tell me which station."

The warrant that Browder posted shows that he is being arrested for fraud.

Later on Wednesday morning, Browder shared a post of him being released, saying: "Good news. Spanish National Police just released me after Interpol General Secretary in Lyon advised them not to honor the new Russian Interpol Red Notice. This is the 6th time that Russia has abused Interpol in my case"

Confusion over arrest

Following Browder's release, confusion remained over why the American-born businessman was detained. Spain's National Police tweeted: "Bill Browder has remained in police custody this morning for the minimum necessary time, after being verified by INTERPOL Spain that the arrest warrant issued by the Russian authorities for tax evasion was invalid."

Interpol headquarters then replied to that tweet, writing: "There is not, and never has been, a Red Notice for Bill Browder. Mr Browder is not wanted via INTERPOL channels."

Interpol has previously urged member countries to ignore attempts by Russia to use its network to apprehend Browder.

'I've been threatened'

Browder told Euronews earlier this year that he had been threatened by the Kremlin. When speaking about the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in early March, Browder claimed Russia was responsible and that he feared for his own life.

"I've been threatened by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, who said at Davos: It's a shame that Sergei Magnitsky (my lawyer) is dead and Bill Browder is still alive and running around."

Browder, who heads Hermitage Capital Management, had said threats against him came after he initiated and rallied Western countries to adopt the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.

The act was named after his lawyer and tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian jail after accusing tax officials of large-scale corruption.

Six countries have passed the act, which Browder said angered Putin.

Browder effect on social media

The power of social media played a big role in attracting international attention and organising support during Browder’s 2-hour detention in Madrid.

Between the time of his initial tweet about the arrest at 9.31am CET, and his tweet at 11:23am CET confirming his release from custody, Twitter mentions of Browder’s name spiked and eventually surpassed 15,000 mentions as well-known Twitter users became aware of the developing situation.

European Parliament member Rebecca Harms replied to Browder, sending condolences and promising to “get in touch with Spanish authorities,” while British Labour Party politician Chris Bryant asked, “can I help? I’m in Madrid.”

Other Twitter users took more immediate action, with some claiming to have called the British Embassy on Browder’s behalf, or advising him to activate Twitter’s geolocation function in order to trace him to the Spanish police station of which he was transported (Browder had said the police conducting the arrest wouldn’t tell him which station he was being taken to).

Several international political figures, from former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to Spanish politician Gonzalez Pons, then weighed in, with the former specifically highlighting Spain’s “worrying” position for following through on the Russian Interpol arrest warrant.

This triggered support from other corners of Twitter as human rights barrister Malcolm Hawkes, of London’s Doughty Street Chambers, tweeted condemnation of the arrest: “This is a clear abuse of the Interpol Red Notice scheme,” he wrote. “Interpol should not enable politically motivated persecution.”

Russia's thoughts?

Russian Twitter users appeared to be less sympathetic. Aside from Russian news outlets alerting the story, tweets were generally negative, and ranged from calling Browder a “hereditary communist and fraudster,” to congratulatory remarks.

One Russian user said he thought the arrest was evidence of “successful negotiations at the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg. “I hope that Russia and the EU will finally come to an agreement and there will be peace,” he wrote.

During this time, there was a surge in the usage of the pre-existing #MagnitskyAct hashtag, a hashtag relating to the act named after Browder's former colleague Magnitsky.

Other hashtags in support of Browder also emerged on top during his short detention in Madrid, including #FreeBillBrowder and #ProtectBillBrowder.