Exposing Corruption in Putin’s Russia — with Bill Browder

Exposing Corruption in Putin’s Russia — with Bill Browder
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his end of year press conference on Dec. 20, 2012, in Moscow, Russia shortly after the U.S. enacted the Magnitsky Act. (Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

Nearly 10 months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it seems crystal clear that there is no turning back to placing Russia on the global stage in either business or politics in the way it once was.

Bill Browder, author of two books about Russia (including his latest, “Freezing Order”) and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, was once one of the largest foreign investors in Russia and has seen the country go through pivotal changes before. But during his time in Russia, massive corruption was revealed in some of the companies that Hermitage had invested in. Browder knew he couldn’t continue to turn a blind eye to what the oligarchs and corrupt officials were doing.

“So I started to do what are known as naming and shaming campaigns, where we would research how these people went about doing the stealing, and then share the research with the international media,” he tells New Lines magazine’s Amie Ferris-Rotman. By 2005, Browder had been expelled from Russia after having his offices raided and being declared a threat to national security. 

One young Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky investigated the raids, reporting on the subsequent $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. In retaliation, Magnitsky was arrested, tortured for 358 days and beaten to death in Russian police custody. This tragedy marked a pivotal moment in Browder’s life and a turning point in his career. “I’ve made it my life’s work to go after the people who killed him to make sure they face justice. I can use these skills to try to help all of these new victims as best as I can.” One result is the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of human rights violators. It became law in the U.S. in 2012, and 35 other countries have since adopted its standards. 

“There’s two ways you can fight the Russians: You can fight them with tanks, and you can fight them in the banks.”

Browder continues working tirelessly to expose the web of corruption among Russian leadership. “There’s two ways you can fight the Russians: You can fight them with tanks, which I have no expertise in, and you can fight them in the banks. And I’m one of the people who knows more about this than just about anybody.”

According to Browder, there’s still plenty of corruption left to uncover, not the least of which stems from Putin himself. He calls the war in Ukraine “a war of distraction,” aimed at redirecting the potential backlash over this to a foreign enemy. “There’s nothing new about this. Dictators have done this, you know, through eons.” And the West ought to bear responsibility for enabling Putin, if not encouraging him. Now the sanctions are too little, too late.

“This is probably the biggest misconception that most Western policymakers and politicians have: that there is some kind of end game, that there’s a negotiated settlement,” Browder says. “That if Putin gets X and Y, he’ll be happy. And then we can all go and live in peace. But I don’t believe there’s any chance whatsoever of a negotiated settlement.” 

Produced by Joshua Martin and Christin El-Kholy

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