William Browder was born in the U.S. and attended Stanford business school but decided to explore investing in Russian entities not long after the Soviet Union collapsed. Privatization of businesses was occurring and Browder found that many of the companies were vastly undervalued as compared to their earnings. He started the Hermitage Investment Group to capitalize on this discrepancy and he had many big-name investors as clients. But Browder quickly ran up against the ruthless and powerful Russian oligarchs and eventually the up and coming Vladimir Putin. Police raided Browder’s Moscow offices as well as those of his attorney’s. Then, the Russian government claimed that companies Browder’s group had invested in had failed to pay taxes. They later discovered the government ministers stole over $200 million of taxes that were paid and painted Browder, Browder’s attorneys, and some of his associates as the criminals. Browder was ejected from the country (on Putin’s orders). Others, like Sergei Magnitsky, were not so lucky. Magnitsky was imprisoned, tortured in an attempt to extract a confession, and when that failed, he was beaten to death. His death turned Browder from an international investor into an international human rights activist.
Three years after Magnitsky died, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which punishes the Russian regime for its extreme human rights abuses by blocking specific individuals from entering the country or holding assets in the U.S. Mr. Browder was instrumental in bringing Magnitsky’s story to light and pushing the legislation forward despite considerable odds. The Obama Administration was highly reluctant to pass any legislation that might threaten their goal of a “Russian reset”. They were intent on appeasing the regime and did everything they could (especially Senator John Kerry) to delay, railroad, or soften the legislation. Browder worked relentlessly to overcome their objections and to see Magnitsky’s murderers pay for their atrocities.
Browder continues to flout Putin by highlighting the regime’s illegal actions, much to his own peril. Putin has a long reach – a few have angered the regime and managed to escape Russia only to be assassinated once in Britain. The Magnitsky Act, and Bill Browder specifically, infuriate Putin to this day. In fact, Putin has repeatedly put a “red notice” on Browder. This is an interpol flag that labels him an international criminal and blocks him from leaving his home country (now the UK) for fear of being taken into custody. Just recently, the U.S. had to overrule that international label again, once again showing Putin that his lawless tactics are powerless outside of Russia. (Browder was born in the U.S. but later became a British citizen and so was blocked from entering the U.S. because of Putin’s antics.)
This is a great behind the scenes story from a first person perspective. Many have probably heard of the law, but few probably fully appreciate what happened to initiate it. When Americans are outraged about Russia, they should revisit all the Putin regime is doing and has done for decades before they condone “resets” or appeasement of any kind.
Amazon link is here.