I bought this book on a whim, knowing nothing about Bill Browder or his earlier best seller, Red Notice. Browder is an American-born, British financier who made his name and fortune in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russian companies were being privatised.
Starting with $25 million in seed capital, he was able to grow Hermitage Capital to $4.5 billion in assets held. In 2005, Browder was blacklisted from Russia as a ‘threat to national security’. He claimed that his activist investor work was interfering in the flow of money between corrupt bureaucrats and their businessmen accomplices. In raids by corrupt Russian officials in 2007, the corporate seals of Hermitage were stolen, allowing the thieves to apply for and receive a corporate tax refund of £230 million. Remaining in Russia to look after Hermitage’s interests, Browder’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky was arrested, charged with tax evasion and died in prison after mistreatment. In retaliation, Browder persuaded the US Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which provides for Russian human rights activists to be sanctioned. A similar act has been passed by the European Union and other countries. Browder testified that President Putin is “the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world”, building a fortune by threatening Russian oligarchs and getting a 50% cut of their profits. He said, “I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.”
The book covers the period 2008 to 2018, but it begins with Browder’s attempted arrest in Madrid in 2018 by Spanish police on a politically motivated Interpol arrest warrant which indicated that Browder was wanted in Moscow for ‘fraud’. At the time, he was in Madrid to meet with Spain’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. Through the rest of the fast-moving book, one is introduced to dozens of corrupt Russian officials and intermediaries, their actions and their photographs. There are many instances of Russian citizens who die under suspicious circumstances after becoming a threat to the official Russian line. One also meets the sleazy Western lawyers and intermediaries, who will do whatever Russia asks in exchange for a big payday. During his travels to testify and to promote the Magnitsky Act, Browder had to deal with constant interference, kidnapping threats, honey traps, defamation, threats to his family, and counter suits. Russian officials often turned the truth on its head to counter a threat. For example, a claim was made that Browder was actually the one who arranged the $230 million tax refund and took the money. Russian laws are ignored and contravened by officials.
As one reads the book, the reader feels that he is reliving what happened in real time. There is minute-to-minute detail of crucial events and the play of emotions.
After reading this book, and observing the events in Ukraine, I believe that the Kremlin and Putin are a major threat to Western democracy and the welfare of the Russian people.