A gripping account of murder, high finance and the Russian president’s Achilles heel
In 2008 a young Russian lawyer called Sergei Magnitsky uncovered a massive tax fraud. He found evidence that a group of well-connected Russian officials had stolen a whopping $230m. The same officials had Magnitsky arrested; he was tossed into a freezing cell and refused medical treatment. Magnitsky – who suffered from pancreatitis and gall stones – spent months in pain. This state-sanctioned torture was meant to make him withdraw his testimony. He didn’t. One day his condition grew critical. Guards put him in an isolation cell. There, they beat him to death.
Magnitsky’s case was to become the most notorious and best-documented example of human rights abuse in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. That this happened was down to one man: Bill Browder, a US-born financier and the CEO of a successful asset management company. Once a Putin fan, Browder found himself in trouble in 2005 when he was deported from Russia. He hired a team, including Magnitsky. When the Kremlin got nasty, most of the lawyers fled. Magnitsky – a family man with two small boys, who liked Beethoven – refused to leave. He believed the law would protect him, that Russia had said farewell to its Soviet ghosts. It was a tragic misjudgment.
Red Notice is a dramatic, moving and thriller-like account of how Magnitsky’s death transformed Browder from hedge-fund manager to global human rights crusader. Its title refers to the extradition request served by Russia on Interpol, demanding Browder’s arrest. (A Russian court later jailed him in absentia for nine years.) In truth, there are quite a few pretenders to the exalted post of “Putin’s No 1 Enemy”, as he describes himself. They include Michael Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch whom Putin (pictured) jailed and sent to Siberia. There is the late Boris Berezovsky, another tycoon who fell out with Russia’s grudge-bearer-in-chief and decamped to London, playing Trotsky to Putin’s Stalin. Or Alexei Navalny, the Moscow opposition leader, currently under house arrest. Or the murdered Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in a Mayfair hotel with radioactive green tea.
Still, there is no doubt that Browder has succeeded in annoying Putin in a way that few have. In the wake of Magnitsky’s murder, he began a campaign to bring his killers to justice. Since they occupied high positions in Russia’s interior ministry and FSB spy agency there was little prospect of this happening. Instead, Browder took advantage of an obscure law passed by president George W Bush in 2004, which allows the US to impose visa sanctions on corrupt foreign officials.
Browder took his campaign to Washington, where the state department gave him short shrift. The Obama administration had “reset” relations with Russia and didn’t want to rock the boat. Indefatigable, bloody-minded, a sort of virtuous pain-in-the-arse Ancient Mariner, Browder continued to lobby senators, journalists and anybody who would listen to him. Against the odds, Congress passed a landmark Magnitsky law in 2012, blocking 18 officials from entering the US. Most importantly, the law denied them access to US banking.
Inadvertently, Browder had found Putin and co’s Achilles heel, and a model that might be used against other mid-ranking human rights abusers. In Soviet times, the politburo lived quite a bit better than the average Soviet citizen. It had special shops and holidays on the Black Sea. In Putin’s Russia, however, the difference was vast: top bureaucrats were worth millions and enjoyed international lifestyles. They owned property in London and Florida. They sent their kids to British private schools. What was the point of stealing all that money if you could only spend it in Sochi, with its scruffy, pebbly beach?
The Magnitsky law drew an apoplectic, asymmetric response from Putin. He ended the adoption of Russian babies by childless American couples. And, in a twist that might have been written by Gogol, the Kremlin put Magnitsky on trial. That he was already dead was apparently not a problem. In summer 2013 a judge convicted him of tax evasion, announcing a surreal verdict to an empty barred cage.
All of this is well told, in a memoir with many grotesque moments. Browder’s personal story is interesting, too. He is the grandson of Earl Browder, the head of the American Communist party. In the 1920s Earl visited Moscow and fell in love with a Russian lawyer. They married and had three children. When Earl returned to the US he ran for president on the Communist ticket, in 1936 and 1940, winning 80,000 votes. As a teenager, the young Browder decided the only way to rebel against his brainy leftwing family was to become a capitalist. Inevitably he was drawn to eastern Europe and his timing was impeccable: he got his first foot in the door, with the Boston Consulting Group, two months before the Berlin wall fell down.
The early chapters of Red Notice read like a mixture of Bildungsroman and a self-help manual for aspiring carpetbaggers. Browder was sent to Poland to rescue a crumbling bus factory. The trip wasn’t a success. Polish food didn’t agree with him; he lost a stone; the firm’s employees felt betrayed when he reluctantly concluded that most of them had to be sacked. While he was there Browder subscribed to Poland’s first-ever privatisations; quicker than most investors, he realised the demise of the communist bloc offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get stupidly rich.
There were false starts. Browder went to work for Robert Maxwell. Every day a whumping from the heavens signified the great man’s arrival by helicopter. Maxwell’s watery death left Browder unemployed. He soon bounced back and was off advising a Russian trawler fleet north of the Arctic circle. What Browder really wanted to do was to run his own investment fund. After some comic negotiations, with a stuffy London bank and a pair of billionaires, he got the seed millions he needed. He called his new firm Hermitage Capital and moved to Moscow.
The story of Russia’s scandalous privatisation programme under Boris Yeltsin is familiar. Facing defeat in the runup to the 1996 presidential election, Yeltsin gave state assets away cheap to the oligarchs. In return they got him re-elected. Browder, meanwhile, piled into the Russian stock market. By 1997 Hermitage had become the best performing investment fund in the world, and its CEO hailed as a financial superman. But he failed to anticipate Russia’s 1998 crash; in its aftermath, oligarchs screwed western investors like Browder by diluting their shares in Russian companies. Browder fought back and when Putin became president in 2000 hailed him as an ally in the fight against oligarchic malfeasance. In reality, the new president wasn’t interested in cleaning up Russia. His goal was simple: to redistribute the states’s abundant resources among his KGB friends.
Red Notice offers a scant and less than convincing account of these years when Browder talked up Russia in western forums. He now admits he was “naive” to take Putin at face value. And yet it’s impossible not to admire him for his subsequent pertinacious campaign against the officials who caused his lawyer’s death.
The British government wasn’t much help, we learn. (Browder, based in London, is a UK citizen.) Two interior ministry officials – Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov – allegedly orchestrated the $230m fraud, stealing taxes paid by Hermitage to the Russian state. Browder found out where the money went – on Range Rovers, Moscow real estate and tacky properties in Dubai. A Russian living in the UK, Alexander Perepilichnyy, offered further clues as to how the officials had routed the “rebate” via a Moscow tax office.
In November 2012 – just as the Magnitsky act was passed – Perepilichnyy collapsed and died while jogging outside his Surrey mansion. He was 44. His cause of death is still a mystery.
Review by Luke Harding for the Guardian, 26th March 2015
The grandson of the head of the American Communist Party commits the ultimate act of rebellion: He gets a business degree from Stanford. From there, he goes on to build the biggest hedge fund in Russia. After exposing widespread government corruption, he gets expelled from the country. While he’s gone, the Kremlin raids his fund and perpetrates an elaborate financial fraud. The lawyer investigating the crime is tortured and dies in prison. He avenges his lawyer’s death, exposing a cover-up at the highest levels of the Putin regime.
Here’s the craziest part: It’s all true, as told by that Stanford M.B.A., Bill Browder, in his new memoir, “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.” It’s a riveting account — and really, how could it not be? — marred only by Browder’s perhaps justifiable but nevertheless grating sense of self-importance.
A cocksure math whiz, Browder rebels against his lefty family — his grandfather Earl Browder twice ran for president on the Communist ticket — by embracing capitalism. Even so, his affection for his grandfather runs so deep that when his boss at a consulting firm asks him where he would like to be posted, he says Eastern Europe.
So in 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Browder found himself on assignment in Poland, where the government had begun privatizing state-owned companies and selling their shares at ridiculously low valuations. It was his light-bulb moment. “I now knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” he writes.
The first third of “Red Notice” recounts the engrossing tale of Browder’s rise to the top of the financial world. Descriptions of his early jobs working for the disgraced financier Robert Maxwell and the highflying bank Salomon Brothers are among the book’s most entertaining sections. Browder is a keen observer of Wall Street culture with a gift for making complex financial investments understandable. You find yourself cheering along as he earns a fortune investing in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, even as he beats his chest after each winning bet. “In a short time, our $25 million portfolio was transformed into $125 million,” he writes. “We had made $100 million!”
Browder soon begins to bump up against rapacious oligarchs and crooked management. But rather than exit the country, like many disillusioned American investors, Browder wages a campaign to clean up Russian capitalism and expose its underbelly. In 2005, the Kremlin bars him from Russia, his assets are misappropriated and one of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, is imprisoned and dies after being beaten by eight riot guards.
Unbowed, Browder punches back. He persuades Congress to pass a law in 2012 imposing sanctions against Russian officials said to be responsible for Magnitsky’s death. His actions drive the Kremlin berserk, and Putin retaliates by signing into law a ban on Americans’ adopting Russian orphans. There is a warrant out for Browder’s arrest in Russia, and he believes there is a real chance that Putin will have him killed.
No doubt, last month’s murder of the Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has surely heightened that fear. Nemtsov had championed Browder’s crusade, traveling to Washington to call on the American government to establish sanctions.
“Previously, the Putin regime relied primarily on imprisonment and exile to silence opposition politicians,” Browder said in a statement issued after Nemtsov’s death. “Now, they have started murdering them. I’m sure this won’t be the last.”
The narrative in “Red Notice” moves along briskly, and Browder’s prose is clean. But as he morphs from iconoclastic investor to political crusader, Browder becomes less likable. At times, he is not his own best protagonist and too frequently lapses into off-putting self-aggrandizement when discussing his accomplishments.
He describes his testimony before a United States House committee. “As I spoke, I noticed that the fresh-faced staffers had stopped tapping away at their BlackBerrys,” he writes, and after he finished “several people in the room had tears in their eyes.” He recalls a human rights panel discussion with Tom Stoppard and Bianca Jagger. “I’d planned to say more, but was cut off by an outburst of applause,” he writes. “One by one, people rose from their seats, and before I knew it, everyone was standing.”
“Red Notice” isn’t the first time Browder has told his tale. He was featured on “60 Minutes” last year, and this newspaper and numerous others have profiled him. Browder acknowledges using the media to help both his investments and his quest for justice, but he also appears to relish the attention, even while it comes at great personal risk. Though he has dedicated his life’s work and this compelling book to his deceased lawyer, make no mistake: Bill Browder is the hero of his own story.
Review by Peter Lattman for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, 18th March 2015
Bill Browder arrived in Moscow in the spring of 1996 with $25 million to wager in the fledgling Russian stock market. Over the next few years, he earned his clients a 700 percent return, lost almost everything in the 1998 financial meltdown, and won it all back and more in the boom that followed. At the peak, his Hermitage Fund had $4.5 billion in assets, making him the country’s biggest foreign portfolio investor and the market’s most enthusiastic cheerleader. Then things began to go horribly wrong.
“Red Notice” is the riveting account of Browder’s journey through the early years of Russian capitalism. A red notice is a global arrest warrant issued by Interpol. In 2013, the Russian authorities tried to place one of these on Browder. Interpol, uncharacteristically, rejected the request.
Browder’s story begins as bildungsroman and ends as Greek tragedy. The grandson of a leader of the American Communist Party, he grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a family of math prodigies. To annoy his left-wing, academic parents, he decided early on to go into business. With an economics degree from the University of Chicago, an MBA from Stanford and a few years of banking in London, he found his way to Moscow just as the country’s Soviet-era enterprises were being privatized.
As he openly acknowledges, Browder speaks no Russian and knew little about the country. This, in fact, became the secret of his success, along with talent, luck and an obsessive streak that kept him hunting deals in the ruins of communism even as his marriage collapsed and his ride to work changed from a Chevy Blazer to an armored car. Had he understood the risks — political, criminal and economic — behind the low share prices, the stocks might not have appeared quite so undervalued to him. More-seasoned investors stayed out. They missed an opportunity but had a point.
After tussling with a few oligarchs in the late 1990s, Browder became Russia’s first shareholder-activist in the early 2000s, setting a model that the protest leader Alexei Navalny later followed. With perfect timing, Browder documented waste and abuse at major companies just as President Vladimir Putin was starting to replace old managers with his own. Some investors were shocked by the arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. Browder at first cheered Putin’s victories over the business titans.
But then the worm turned. By 2005, Browder was exposing problems in Gazprom, where Putin’s old associate Alexei Miller had taken charge. That November, Browder flew into Sheremetyevo Airport, only to be detained overnight and frog-marched onto a plane back to London, his visa revoked. Meanwhile, a ring of police and tax officials was stealing three of his companies and using them to obtain a fraudulent $230 million tax rebate. When, after quietly withdrawing his assets, Browder fought to expose the crime, he was threatened, and he evacuated most of his people to London.
One lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, refused to leave. Escalating matters, he filed a criminal complaint against the police officers behind the scam. Those same officers then arrested him, held him in jail without medical treatment for months as he endured pancreatitis and gallstones, and eventually sent guards to beat him to death in his cell.
Browder is clearly devastated by his role in Magnitsky’s death, and the last quarter of the book recounts his efforts to prod Western governments to do something about it. The result was the Magnitsky Act, passed in December 2012, which imposed a U.S. asset freeze and travel ban on a list of officials involved in Magnitsky’s mistreatment.
It is a powerful story, and Browder tells it skillfully. He is not always generous to those who disagree. Any Western officials who questioned the “name and shame” strategy of the Magnitsky list are assumed to be moved by shallow careerism rather than, say, a belief that such measures don’t work. Browder claims that then-Sen. John Kerry sought to bury the bill as part of a deal to be named secretary of state. The source for this allegation? That well-known authority, “the rumor in Washington.”
But for the most part, Browder sticks to what he observed, giving the book a feel of authenticity. One glimpses the struggle at the top in the mid-2000s, as the more pragmatic technocrats around Putin try to convince him that his security-service friends are poisoning the business climate. A series of regime insiders intercedes unsuccessfully on Browder’s behalf. Even some in uniform seem disgusted by the corruption and brutality. One mystery informant — at what must have been great personal risk — repeatedly leaks details to Browder about the secret operations planned against him.
What defeats the technocrats’ message is the market itself, which, flushed with global liquidity, soars 170 percent in the three years after Khodorkovsky’s arrest and 66 percent in the year after Browder’s expulsion. By the time the crash comes in 2009, Putin has stopped listening.
An enigma hangs over the book — that of Magnitsky himself. What caused this gentle tax lawyer and father to stubbornly refuse to save himself by retracting his complaint, even as his jailers left him to suffer the agony of gallstones and then fatally beat him? From where does such moral strength arise? “Russian stories never have happy endings,” Magnitsky tells Browder, in the book’s most memorable line. Perhaps not, but they do have inspiring ones.
Review by Daniel Treisman, Washington Post, 13th February 2015.
A lot of books these days claim to lift the lid on the dark arts of the men in the Kremlin. Black deeds on Red Square are hot stuff in publishing. Just like the Tudors, there's always some new angle.
However, many of these peeks inside the Kremlin are samey. They start with a cover of a Romanov eagle, or a shot of Moscow taken from a sinister angle and segue into a cautionary tale of how the unwary author fell in and out of love with Mother Russia. At first sight, Bill Browder's book is just another exposé. And, it is hard at first to warm to the author, a turbo-charged capitalist who roared off east in the hunt for rich pickings in the rubble of Soviet communism.
By the end I was hooked, however. Browder's book is a real thriller. It also helps that he has packed two very different stories into one set of covers. The first, less interesting, tale is about a beady-eyed investor landing in the chaos of just-post-communist Russia and making a fortune by buying up underpriced assets whose value later soared. This part is instructive only in the sense that I now understand why so many Russians loathe Westerners. Act II veers off in a different direction, however. For a while, Vladimir Putin's clique put up with Browder's money-spinning fund – and with his complaints about the more flagrant crimes of the so-called oligarchs. But once Putin had dealt with the oligarchs who challenged his authority, the rest continued operating their scams under a kind of franchise, which is when Browder ceased to be a useful whistleblower and became a nuisance.
As the storm clouds gathered, Browder made his exit from Russia and cannily funneled out most of his investors' money at the same time. Putin's goons charged around, raiding banks and offices, searching for cash that was no longer there. Enraged to find the cupboard bare, they arranged a clever heist. After a tax demand for several hundred million dollars was slapped on Browder's fund, they got the corrupt tax office to funnel them the money. Getting their hands on this mega $230m "refund" was pure robbery. The tax demand was fraudulent and the money came out of the Russians' own pockets. Browder cried foul but was back in London by then. It was his Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who bore the brunt of the regime's fury – with his life – for exposing the way a favoured few had a licence to plunder the many.
What happened to Magnitsky – a naïve patriot who could not accept that "his" government would punish him for exposing an obvious crime – is heart-rending. Having disliked Browder to begin with, I was cheering him on as he retold his dogged fight to bring the fate of his murdered, gentle but stubborn lawyer to international attention. Clearly, you need deep pockets if you are going to take on the Kremlin and win. Russia has been described as a state that constantly wages war on its own people. Unfortunately, this book suggests that this harsh-sounding judgement is an accurate one.
Review printed in the Independent on 12th February 2015
Ah, the mid 1990s. Memories. The Soviet Union was no more, and fashionable academics were writing books about how the world had reached the “end of history,” a time when the old ideological disputes would fade away, because everybody now understood that multi-party republics and capitalistic economic systems [with softened social-democratic edges] were the way to go. Policy wonks translated this vision into the “Washington Consensus,” a set of rules for how underdeveloped or war-torn countries could develop and join the club of the peaceful and developed.
Boris Yeltsin, the flawed founder of post-Soviet Russian politics and a man with a flair for the dramatic, was Russia’s president; a smooth path to the privatization of the high plateaus of the post-Soviet economy was surely possible; and opportunities for foreign investors were everywhere.
William Browder entered this scene, and entered into such rosy scenarios, in a big way, as CEO of the activist Hermitage Capital Management, the firm he founded in 1996, with help from Edmond Safra. Through the nine years after the founding of Hermitage, Browder profited handsomely, earning by one estimate roughly $140 million a year at his peak. Under his leadership, too, Hermitage grew to such an extent that, nine years after its founding it had $4.5 billion in assets under management.
Browder has now written a book, Red Notice, about his rise to prominence as a leader of the wave of foreign investment in Russia under first Yeltsin, later Putin. And about what happened next, when the relationship between those investors and Putin turned very sour. The easy summary: it is all very well to pursue alpha in frontier circumstances, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Part of the fascination of this story comes from Browder’s own lineage. His paternal grandfather, Earl Browder, chaired the Communist Party USA from 1934 to 1945, loyally taking orders from Stalin both when Stalin was allied with Hitler and when the tables turned, and Moscow had to tie its fate to that of the western allies.
Earl’s son, and William Browder’s father, is the renowned mathematician Felix Browder, a professor at Rutgers University and an authority on “topological fixed point theory.” [No, I don’t know what that means.] One would not a priori have expected Earl Browder’s grandson to be so enthusiastic and successful a hedge fund manager. But if one had made that guess, one would probably have expected that the son of Felix Browder would focus on some quantitative, algorithmic system in the hunt for alpha. Instead, William Browder sought gains for himself and his investors through qualitative research and all-too-human judgment calls.
He was in the business of looking for undervalued companies, especially in cases where the undervaluation resulted from the under-exposed nature of the assets: diamonds in the rough.
This worked well with Sidanco, which was first described to Browder in a conversation in August 1996 as “a big oil company in western Siberia that no one’s heard of.” It was effectively controlled [96% owned] by an investment group led by Vladimir Potanin, who by coincidence was then the deputy prime minister of Russia.
Accurate information about Sidanco turned out to be hard to find, because only 4% of the company’s equity was available for sale on the market, so as Browder writes the sliver of public equity wasn’t enough “to compel any analyst to waste time writing research reports.” Yet when some digging around did turn up some information, it appeared that “Sidanco was cheap beyond belief.” The market capitalization implied that each barrel of its oil reserves was worth $0.15 at a time when the market price of crude oil was $20.
Hermitage bought more than a quarter of the available equity, 1.2% of the company, for $11 million.
In October 1997, BP announced that it was buying 10% of Potanin’s bloc. It did so at a 600% premium to the price Hermitage had paid a year before. There was nothing underexposed about Sidanco any longer. In fact, BP’s CEO and Potanin signed their deal in the office of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The diamonds were out of the rough and in the showcase, and Hermitage had its big win.
If We Had the Chance to Do It All Again
Sort of a win: the Sidanco deal, which appeared so rousing a success for Hermitage when BP stepped up, turned very sour for both of them. Potanin and friends launched a share dilution scam designed to push out or render irrelevant foreign interests. They tripled the number of shares outstanding, sold the new shares cheap to Russian interests, but locked out Hermitage in particular from buying. This led to the following dialogue between Browder and the apparatchik who brought him the news.
“If this dilution goes forward, it’s going to cost me and my investors … eighty-seven million dollars.”
“Yes, we know. That’s the intention, Bill.”….
“But how can you do this? It’s illegal!”….
“This is Russia. Do you think we worry about these types of things?”
Still later, as Putin turned against Browder, he found himself expelled from Russia, and in danger of arrest by Interpol. Hermitage itself was seized and turned over to a group of Russian nationals.
Russian authorities also arrested Browder’s tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was never brought to trial [while alive.] Instead, after a year locked up, Magnitsky (to whom Browder dedicates this book) was beaten to death by officers with rubber batons. Then he was tried and convicted of tax fraud.
The best we have by way of a happy ending is that both the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament passed Magnitsky Acts, providing for the seizure of assets from the Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death.
Review in All About Alpha, 8th February 2015
Late in the process of publishing this book its author sat down for lunch with George Clooney. Clooney was with his wife, Amal. It was said afterwards that they wanted to meet Bill Browder to talk about an anti-corruption law for Britain similar to one he has already pushed through the US Congress; a law that would freeze assets and ban visas for thieving Russians. Maybe that did come up. It would certainly be a good thing. But I’ll eat my Bic if George and Bill didn’t spend the starter and the main course and most of pudding talking about film rights.
More than any other book to have emerged on mob rule in Russia since the fall of Communism, Red Notice has “now a major motion picture” etched into its DNA. It’s the story of Browder’s arrival in Russia in the chaos of the early privatisations, his creation of a multibillion-dollar investment fund there and his deadly battle with Vladimir Putin’s thugs when they decided he’d made too much money and it was time to steal it from him.
For fans of the genre, many of the ingredients will be familiar. There are gorgeous women and stone-faced oligarchs. There are speedboats and private jets. There is staggering chutzpah and the kind of casual cruelty that we all wish died with Stalin, but there’s also an unusually high dose of authenticity. This is not a pieced-together piece of journalism. It’s personal. Every last bit of it happened to Browder or because of him. It’s an unburdening, a witness statement and a thriller all at the same time.
It’s personal from the start because Browder is, improbably, the grandson of the founder of the American Communist Party. Earl Browder travelled to Soviet Russia in the late twenties and early thirties and was persecuted by Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee after the war. Earl’s son — Bill’s father — had trouble finding a foothold in American academia because of his name and Bill himself attributes two defining decisions to his family tree.
The first of these decisions was to get into capitalism as a way of rebelling against his left-wing parents. “Nothing would piss them off more than that,” he writes, and since he did nothing by halves this meant Stanford business school and a total, monomaniacal commitment to making money.
This was the Eighties. Browder was riding the zeitgeist, but by the early Nineties he wanted something different. The Soviet bloc was falling apart. He didn’t speak a word of Russian but he did think that since his grandfather had carved out his niche there, “then maybe I could too”.
The background is important because it would be hard otherwise to fathom Browder’s implacable desire to be different and at the same time filthy rich. He’s as honest about it as Gordon Gekko was in Wall Street. The first time he finds a “ten-bagger” — an asset so undervalued that investing in it can deliver a ten-fold return — it feels, he says, like crack cocaine.
That first ten-bagger was a no-name Polish privatisation that he stumbled on as a junior management consultant, barely a year after the Berlin wall came down. Fast-forward to the real prize: Russia, 1993, in the throes of the “shock therapy” foisted on it by American Ivy Leaguers and encouraged by the first wave of oligarchs. Browder was there, buying up the vouchers issued to every Russian citizen as their share of their rusting Soviet industrial inheritance. He bought huge wads of them with bricks of $100 bills from trestle tables set up in a dingy Moscow convention centre, and then he waited.
This is electrifying stuff because we all know what happened next, but no other westerner lived it. What happened was that the vouchers became a commodity and their value went through the roof. Browder was working for Salomon Brothers at the time, and he made them $100 million in a few days. When colleagues and bosses who had shunned him suddenly wanted a piece of him, he quit and struck out on his own.
In the next 12 years he became as adept as anyone in Russia at finding companies being sold off at tiny fractions of their true value. He became Russia’s investment rock star, fêted from Davos to Dubai and Monaco for delivering percentage yields with two and sometimes three zeroes for his investors. The 1998 crash wasn’t good — for anyone — and when the rouble hit bottom Browder lost $900 million in a day, but he made it all back. By 2006 his fund was worth $4.5 billion and his profits for the previous year alone were $973 million.
Then it all went wrong. The story of the Stanford boy who mastered Russian cowboy capitalism (and claims to have cleaned up some of Russia’s dirtiest companies in the process) becomes a parable of greed, naivety and vengeance.
Browder has fed Moscow’s western press corps some of their best stories since the end of Gorbachev, so it is by now exhaustively documented that he was hounded out of Russia by corrupt police who may or may not have been acting on Putin’s orders; that they tried and failed to take his money; and that in their fury they had his Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, jailed, tortured and left for dead.
Magnitsky was a father of two in his thirties, mild-mannered but tenacious. Browder hired him to unravel the web of fake companies and court judgments that his enemies used to target his assets. As the danger to Magnitsky mounted, Browder begged him to leave Russia. When he refused he was arrested and thrown in the notorious Butyrka jail and held there for 358 days without trial, a way station in Soviet times to the gulag. He fell ill but was denied treatment and eventually beaten senseless by a posse of police with rubber batons. He was found dead shortly afterwards in November 2009.
The Magnitsky law, which bans more than 60 named individuals involved in his death from travelling to or doing business with America, is Browder’s assuagement and his revenge, forced through Congress with the same irresistible personality that fires up this book.
This isn’t literature. It doesn’t join the dots conclusively from Browder’s troubles and Magnitsky’s death to Putin’s own kleptomania. Nor does it spend much time on the ethics of making a vast fortune from undervalued Soviet assets. But it is brave — other writers have been killed for less direct attacks on the Putin regime — and it is one heck of a read, to be consumed at a sitting with a stiff drink at your elbow. Let’s hope the film is as good.
Review by Giles Whitell for The Times, 7th February 2015
The way to think about Russia, Bill Browder told me in Moscow in 2004, using a comparison he recycles in Red Notice, is as a giant prison yard. Vladimir Putin, he argued then, had no choice but to destroy Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the yard’s top dog and country’s richest man. One of a tribe of Western financiers who traversed a hermetic circuit of offices, guarded apartments, upscale restaurants and the airport, Browder would berate reporters for banging on about human rights abuses or atrocities in Chechnya. Putin was already Putin, for anyone who cared to notice — autocratic, corrupt, nationalistic — but, for Browder, Russia was an oil-powered success story, and Putin was a seer.
Understandably, Red Notice glosses over its author’s past as a devout Putinista (‘I naively thought that Putin was acting in the national interest’). I mention it not to diminish Browder’s subsequent courage, still less to imply that he got what he deserved: it doesn’t and he didn’t. Rather the contrast illustrates what Anna Politkovskaya once identified as the biggest problem for Russians: the widespread belief that ‘it’ — the knock on the door, the trumped-up charge — will never happen to them.
Because, for all his cheerleading, it happened to Browder. As founder of Hermitage Capital, he became the biggest portfolio investor in Russia. The first half of his book explains how the grandson of America’s leading communist, Earl Browder, came to occupy such an arch-capitalist role. Despite Bill’s attempt to enliven this pre-history with implausibly recalled dialogue and would-be dramatic reconstructions (‘Within seconds, I was engrossed in my BlackBerry’s email dump’), anyone not thrilled by money-making might consider skimming.
Yet some telling themes emerge. Browder — by his account, ever the Chicago little guy battling English toffs, American shysters and Russian oligarchs — is painfully status-conscious, and hates defeat and slights. Then there is his basic investment strategy. From his stint as a callow consultant in Poland in 1990, to his spells with Robert Maxwell (‘Would we get our year-end bonuses?’ he worries when Maxwell dies) and Salomon Brothers (‘It’s hard to describe how small $50,000 is to an investment banker’), Browder learns to spot giveaway privatisations. In that pursuit he relocates to Russia, navigating the bare-knuckle business world and the catastrophic default of 1998. A third noteworthy trait is Browder’s odd mix of extreme worldliness and almost touching naivety, including over his self-depiction.
In Russia his method was to buy cheap stock, then boost its value by exposing corporate sleaze; one of his targets was Gazprom, the state-controlled gas giant. Unsurprisingly, he made enemies, and in November 2005 was turned back at Sheremetyevo airport. Even then — like a loyal prisoner in the Gulag, hoping for Stalin to intervene — Browder thought Putin might help; that ‘the good guys would get the bad guys’. They didn’t. Instead Browder’s offices were raided, and a cabal of police and security-service officers, abetted by crooked tax officials, conniving judges and bona fide criminals, used his holding companies to scam a bogus tax rebate of $230 million.
Many of Browder’s staff fled, but Sergei Magnitsky, an idealistic, patriotic young tax lawyer he had hired, stayed and tried to expose the fraud — only for the villains to be appointed as investigators. In a failed bid to make him retract, Magnitsky was imprisoned, tortured and denied urgent medical treatment. Browder tried to get him out, but he died on the floor of a Russian jail in November 2009.
As Browder writes, this episode matters because, largely through Magnitsky’s courageous efforts, it is a superbly well-documented case of state-sponsored crime — which, as the cover-up showed, went right to the top. As Browder finally realised, in Moscow there is no one to complain to. It is also, I think, an unrelenting parable of how Russia’s rulers cheat and harm their citizens. As an investor Browder was good for the Russian economy: kicking him out helped the larcenists but hurt the country. The fraud that Magnitsky uncovered was ultimately perpetrated not against Browder but against the put-upon Russian people.
The self-mutilation didn’t end there. Now berating others for kowtowing to the Kremlin, Browder sought redress. He exposed the ludicrously pharaonic lifestyles of Magnitsky’s killers; in 2012 he cut through the horse-trading in Washington to secure the passage of the Magnitsky Act. Under it, individuals implicated in the affair can be subjected to American visa bans and asset freezes — measures that nicely exploit the kleptocrats’ hypocritical fondness for western banks and property, and which, as Browder notes, have since been used to punish the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia responded by banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans. Again, the victims were mainly Russians, in this case orphans. Aiming to discredit the Act but abasing their own justice system, in 2013 the Russian authorities tragi-farcically (and posthumously) tried Magnitsky for tax evasion. They asked Interpol to collar Browder, via the ‘Red Notice’ of his title. The interior ministry gave medals to some of the crooks.
In the end, notwithstanding Browder’s valid Russophobia, his is a very Russian tale, as well as an important one. This, after all, is a country of lurid metamorphoses, in which liberals turn into ultranationalists, KGB men become oil barons, murderers enter parliament, and, in Browder’s case, a fellow-travelling financier morphed into an implacable human rights activist. It is quintessentially Russian in another way, too. Russia has a long tradition of sufferers discovering moral fortitude in adversity. Magnitsky himself did that, heroically, and so, in his peculiar, dogged fashion, has Browder.
Review in the Spectator on 7th February 2015
The timing of Bill Browder's new book, “Red Notice,” is quite impeccable. After years of craven appeasement, the West finally realized the failure of its “reset” policies with Russia. “Red Notice” provides a powerful glimpse of what’s been taking place in Putin’s Russia, while the world looked the other way.
As the hedge fund manager, Browder was hugely successful with Hermitage Capital Management, a company he founded in Russia in 1996. It became the largest investment fund in the country. Browder was the prime example of succeeding the right way – without chicanery, fraud or embezzlement. This was the surefire way of irritating corrupt Russian elites. Big business and big government in Russia are intrinsically intertwined, brazenly operating as organized crime. Vladimir Putin is the Godfather of this far-reaching mafia family. He empowered the group of his cronies to enrich themselves at the expense of Russian economy, on the backs of the country’s longsuffering people. Resounding success of Bill Browder’s company, combined with his efforts to expose and uproot corruption, brought on the ire of the Kremlin gangsters.
In a brazen conspiracy, Russian authorities stole Browder’s companies, prevented him from re-entering the country, applied for and received a $230 million tax refund for the monies paid by his fund’s companies to the Russian government. Having declared Browder a “threat to national security,” Russian authorities shamelessly helped themselves to the largest tax refund in Russian history, which was paid out the next day after being requested – no questions asked.
While Bill Browder was banned from re-entering Russia, his attorney Sergei Magnitsky bravely continued the quest against corruption from within. After he untangled the complex fraud and testified against the officials involved, he was prosecuted by the perpetrators. For over a year, the principled 37-year-old was tortured, but refused to withdraw or change his testimony. Finally, on November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky was handcuffed to a bedrail and brutally clubbed to death with rubber batons. Eight prison guards in full riot gear participated in the execution. Putin disingenuously claimed that “there was no malicious intent or criminal negligence in Magnitsky’s death.” Russia’s Godfather infamously responded to questions about the Kursk submarine tragedy by coldly stating: “It drowned.” He similarly responded to the inquiries about Sergei Magnitsky’s demise by saying: “He died.”
Bill Browder vowed to avenge the death of his honorable attorney. He pushed for travel and financial sanctions against the Russian officials who were involved in Magnitsky’s imprisonment, torture and death. Overcoming DC’s initial reluctance, Browder achieved the passing of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in Dec. 2012. The European Parliament followed suit, without a single objection. Browder is now pushing for a global version of the Magnitsky Act, to hold human rights abusers accountable worldwide.
Russian authorities retaliated by initiating a posthumous prosecution of Sergei Magnitsky for alleged tax crimes in 2013, years after his death. It was the first post-mortem trial in Russia’s history. Bill Browder was convicted of the same ludicrous charges in absentia. Russia’s show trials against truth-tellers and whistleblowers are notoriously common. Putin’s government took their retaliation out on additional innocent victims, by halting American adoptions of Russian children. In the meantime, officials sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act were promoted in Russia. The judge in the show-trial against Bill Browder and the deceased Magnitsky was himself on the U.S. sanctions list. “Red Notice” aptly describes Russia as a place “where lies reign supreme … A place where an innocent man who was murdered by the state, a man whose only crime was loving his country too much, can be made to suffer from beyond a grave. This is Russia today.”
Putin is still not done with Bill Browder, his Enemy No. 1, since he managed to expose the Achilles heel of Russia’s mafia kleptocracy. Because of Browder’s activism, stolen billions of Russia’s reigning elites, which are being kept in the West, can be located and frozen. The Russian government has made repeated attempts to place the fearless justice-seeker on Interpol’s “Red Notice” list, seeking to extradite Browder to Russia as an alleged “fugitive.” He is receiving numerous death threats. As the book recounts, the Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev said during an off-the-record briefing: “Yes, it is a shame that Sergei Magnitsky died, and Bill Browder is running free and alive.”
Undeterred and unafraid, Bill Browder continues his pursuit of justice, as a lasting, powerful tribute to Sergei Magnitsky, who sacrificed his life in the name of truth and honor. “Red Notice” is an inspiring tale of confronting true evil and battling corrupt giants, against all odds. Bill Browder writes, “If finding a ten bagger in the stock market was a highlight of my life before, there is no feeling as satisfying as getting some measure of justice in a highly unjust world.
Review by Julia Davis for Examiner.com on 7th February 2015
Bill Browder has written a book that is by turns gripping, chilling, and moving—a book that impels a reviewer to pile one outraged adjective upon another. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (Simon & Schuster, 2015) is a scathing indictment of Putin’s brutal kleptocracy, which Browder and the people connected to his firm, Hermitage Capital, experienced firsthand.
Browder, the grandson of Earl Browder, head of the American Communist Party who ran for president twice on the Communist ticket, rebelled and became a capitalist, though he still felt the pull of Eastern Europe. His first major deal was for his employer, Salomon Brothers: buying $25 million worth of Russian privatization certificates that were then exchanged for shares in undervalued Russian companies. In a short time the portfolio was worth $125 million, and the 29-year-old Browder became a hero at Salomon.Soon enough, he decided to go out on his own. With considerable difficulty he launched his firm, based in Moscow, in 1996. A year later his investors were amply rewarded: the fund was ranked the best-performing fund in the world, up 235 percent for the year and 718 percent from inception. Started with assets of $25 million, the firm now had AUM of more than $1 billion. In 1998, hit by the Russian currency crisis, it dropped a whopping 90 percent, but by the end of 2003 it had managed to climb out of its hole, and then some. It had rallied more than 1,200 percent from the bottom of the market.
Its spectacular recovery was the result of a joint, though uncoordinated effort. Hermitage Capital exposed corruption in Russian companies owned by oligarchs who posed, early on, a challenge to Vladimir Putin’s power. Putin was only too happy to use Hermitage’s research to his own ends. His intervention reined in some of the oligarchs and led to increased corporate profits. Putin won, Hermitage won.
In October 2003, however, Putin upped the ante: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the CEO of Yukos and Russia’s richest man, was arrested. In June of the next year he was sentenced to nine years in prison. His fellow oligarchs got the message. What could they do to avoid ending up in that cage? Browder speculates that Putin’s response was “50 percent.” “Not 50 percent to the government or 50 percent to the presidential administration, but 50 percent to Vladimir Putin. I don’t know this for sure. It could have been 30 percent or 70 percent or some other arrangement. What I do know for sure was that after Khodorkovsky’s conviction, my interests and Putin’s were no longer aligned. He had made the oligarchs his ‘bitches,’ consolidated his power, and, by many estimates, become the richest man in the world.” (p. 164)
Browder, unaware that he and Putin were on a collision course, continued to name and shame Russian oligarchs. “There was a difference this time, though. Now, instead of going after Putin’s enemies, I was going after Putin’s own economic interests.” (p. 165)
This would not do. In 2005 Browder was expelled from Russia, and things would only get worse from there. As Browder’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky told him, and as his own imprisonment and subsequent murder would make manifest, “Russian stories never have happy endings.” And in Putin’s Russia stories are a pack of lies, justice is a joke, endings are final.
Review on ValueWalk.com on February 7th 2015
One man who has experienced the Kremlin’s darker side and has been instrumental in developing a targeted sanctions policy against Russia is Bill Browder, a hedge fund manager turned human rights activist. If Dawisha’s book is a clinical dissection of Putin’s regime, Browder’s Red Notice is an impassioned personal broadside against the Kremlin.
The first part of his book recounts his rollercoaster years as a US-born financier who moved to Moscow in the 1990s, built up the biggest foreign investment fund in Russia and was then thrown out of the country in 2005 after exposing systematic corporate corruption. Even in his own telling, Browder does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character. Sharp-elbowed and unsentimental, he knew little about Russia other than that it was a fabulous place to get rich. He cheered from the sidelines as Putin tamed the oligarchs and jailed Khodorkovsky, and was happy to make money wherever he could amid the corruption.
After analysing Gazprom’s accounts, Browder’s team estimated that managers had in effect siphoned off reserves equivalent to the size of Kuwait’s. “Full-scale wars had been fought over far less,” he writes. Nevertheless, Browder concluded that Gazprom’s undervalued shares remained a terrific buy because he knew that 90 per cent of its reserves had not been stolen. “What should an investor do in a situation like this? I’ll tell you what: you buy the shit out of that stock.”
For a while, Browder’s interests were aligned with those of the Kremlin: helping to expose the predations of the oligarchs. But he believes that once Putin and his friends had recaptured all the top assets, their interests diverged, resulting in his expulsion.
Browder’s world was turned upside down when one of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested and jailed for almost a year after discovering evidence of a $230m tax scam by state officials. Denied medical treatment and beaten by police officers, Magnitsky died in prison in 2009.
Browder pays fitting tribute to a lawyer who was angered by the criminality he saw around him and was determined to do something about it. He was exactly the kind of cussed, courageous lawyer needed to defend freedoms in society. Ignoring pleas to flee Russia, Magnitsky had insisted on staying in Moscow and fighting his case. “The law will protect me. This isn’t 1937,” Magnitsky said, in reference to Stalin’s purges.
“He didn’t realize that Russia had no rule of law, it had a rule of men,” Browder writes. “Sergei Magnitsky was killed for his ideals. He was killed because he believed in the law. He was killed because he loved his people, and because he loved Russia. He was thirty-seven years old.”
Outraged by Magnitsky’s death, Browder vowed to bring those responsible for his murder to justice. With no chance of pursuing the case in Russia, Browder began lobbying western governments and parliaments to sanction those involved in his arrest, persecution and death. He was helped by the meticulous records that Magnitsky kept while in prison. As Browder observes, Russia may be a country with no respect for law, but it has a slavish adherence to bureaucratic procedure. In his 358 days in detention, Magnitsky and his lawyers filed 450 criminal complaints protesting against the violation of his rights, making it perhaps the most well-documented human rights case to come out of Russia in 35 years.
As a result of his extraordinary tenacity, Browder succeeded in achieving something that even the US president has struggled to do: persuading Congress to pass legislation. In 2012 the US Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, enshrining a new method for fighting human rights abuses in authoritarian regimes in the 21st century: targeted visa sanctions and asset freezes. “What had started out as a Bill about Sergei had morphed into a historic piece of global human rights legislation,” Browder writes.
The Kremlin reacted with fury to Browder’s campaign and issued an Interpol Red Notice demanding his arrest and extradition. In 2013 it opened a trial against Browder, now based in London, as well as Magnitsky himself. “The last time a dead person had been prosecuted in Europe was in AD897, when the Catholic Church convicted Pope Formosus posthumously, cut off his papal fingers and threw his body into the River Tiber,” Browder notes acidly. In absentia, Browder was sentenced to nine years in prison. But that has not stopped him campaigning for European parliaments to adopt similar legislation.
The capitalistic grandson of a noted US communist meets turmoil in today’s Russia.
Bill Browder made piles of money as a foreign investor in Russia. At least, he did until the Russian government expelled him in 2005 for continually pointing out the country’s corrupt business practices. With Browder out of the way, two police officers then hijacked his company, Hermitage Capital, and set in motion an elaborate $230 million tax refund scam.
An American with British citizenship, Browder was nervy enough to believe he could use the Russian courts to refute the government’s contrived case against him. But when Browder’s Russian lawyers followed the money trail, they found that the police officers who had seized Browder’s company had criminal connections inside the justice system.
Then Browder’s lawyers were themselves charged with crimes. A few of them, weighing the odds of successfully battling the Russian government in court, sensibly fled the country, but one, a mild-mannered 37-year-old father named Sergei Magnitsky, remained. “He insisted that nothing would happen to him because he had done nothing wrong,” writes Browder. “He was also indignant that these people had stolen so much money from his country.”
Magnitsky was ultimately arrested by the very officers he had documented as part of the tax fraud. For almost a year the judicial system subjected Magnitsky to physical abuse and denied him emergency medical attention in its quest to get him to perjure himself. “His only misfortune was to stumble across a major government corruption scheme and then behave like a Russian patriot and report it,” writes Browder.
Magnitsky died in prison in 2009, seven days before the expiration of the one-year term during which he could be legally held without trial.
From England, Browder spent five years rebuilding his company while simultaneously publicizing Magnitsky’s case. Through the doggedness of Browder’s campaign for justice for the lawyer, he eventually succeeded in getting American politicians interested in what has become known as The Magnitsky Act, whereby the dozens of Russian government officials involved in the persecution of the stubbornly truthful lawyer would be denied visas to travel to the United States. With a sigh of relief, as the law passed in 2012, Browder reflected in wonder, “There is no shortage of suffering in this world, but somehow Sergei’s tragedy resonated and cut through as few tragedies ever do.”
I don’t know anything about investment banking except what Browder has taught me in “Red Notice,” yet as a reader I was fully engaged by the book’s monumental presentation of the risks, rewards, and personal and financial dangers of doing business in Russia.
The first half of “Red Notice,” about Browder’s life and career up to his expulsion from Russia, is just as compelling as the Magnitsky-focused second half. As the grandson of Earl Browder, the head of the American Communist Party who ran twice for president against F.D.R., Bill Browder was an aimless Midwestern boy, unsuccessful and uninspired in school until he transferred to the University of Chicago, where he found his calling.
After getting an MBA at Stanford, he started working at a big firm in London. He recognized an opportunity for himself in his first year there, just after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989: “My grandfather had been the biggest communist in America, and as I watched these events unfold, I decided that I wanted to become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.”
Browder’s earnestness about Magnitsky and candor about his own weaknesses and regrets are disarming and make “Red Notice” an unusually affecting book.
Browder only wishes Magnitsky’s fate hadn’t needed to become newsworthy: “If I could do it all over again, I would never have gone to Russia in the first place,” he writes. “I would gladly trade all of my business success for Sergei’s life. I now understand how completely naïve I was to think that as a foreigner I was somehow immune to the barbarity of the Russian system.”
What Browder says he intends to do now is to “carry on creating a legacy for Sergei and pursuing justice for his family.” A book as resounding as “Red Notice” may be a step in that direction.
Sadly, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is not the kind of David-and-Goliath story that finishes well for the little guy. Magnitsky’s courage and conviction were countered by the governmental powers railroading him. “Red Notice” is a dramatic recounting of Browder’s battle with the Russian system. But more important, it’s a tribute to Magnitsky – making it a book that reads like a thriller, yet finishes as a tragedy.
Review in Christian Science Monitor, 4th February 2015
In 2013 I went to London’s notorious libel courts to gaze with anger and despair on yet another case that should never had come to trial. Pavel Karpov was suing Bill Browder, an investment fund manager, who had launched a devastating campaign against corrupt officials who had driven him out of Russia, and tortured and murdered his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.
The retired major from Putin’s Interior Ministry Police was appalled to be on Browder’s sanctions list. His luxuriously expensive lawyers claimed that Browder had not only defamed Karpov, but caused “moral suffering” to his tender frame. With evident regret, the judge stopped the hearing. Karpov had no reputation in England and therefore could not sue. Less doltish observers were struck by the Putin paradox, which niggles at everyone who watches the Kremlin.
If you believe what you hear, you cannot believe what you see.
If you assumed the regime was telling the truth when it said Russia wasn’t a Mafia state, you wouldn’t see Putin’s cronies in the playpens of Manhattan and Mayfair. If you believed that Russia respected international law, you would not see its troops in Ukraine. And if you believed that Pavel Karpov was the honest cop he claimed to be, you would not see him spending close to $1 million on London lawyers and PR men, or driving one of his many sports cars around Moscow, or relaxing in one of his family’s collection of upmarket apartments.
In his new book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice Bill Browder writes the way he talks—which is always a good strategy. His autobiography is bracing, direct and honest, with only a little less swearing than you encounter in person. It is both a political thriller and an argument for morality in foreign policy that he could never have expected to make when he began his roaring career in finance.
in Browder came from a socialist family. His grandfather Earl Browder was leader of the American Communist Party in the 1940s. Earl was so loyal a comrade he carried on supporting the Soviet Union even after Stalin had expelled him from the Communist Party and denounced the “Browderist” ideological deviation as heresy. His grandson revolted in the most dramatic fashion imaginable, and became a capitalist.
Bill Browder also went to Russia. He found that shares in Gazprom and other companies were astonishingly cheap. Investors assumed managers were ransacking their companies’ assets. Browder bought shares for peanuts, and then his researchers exposed the corruption. As the authorities made their arrests, Browder’s shares shot up in value. He turned $25 million in seed capital into $1 billion. The financial press rated his firm, Hermitage, the best performing investment fund in the world in 1997.
Contemporary culture does not cast brash fund managers as heroes. But although Browder does not make a big deal about it, his defiance was heroic, and remains so. Browder and Hermitage’s staff had to show physical courage, as critics of the kleptocracy ended up dead. Early on, Browder realized Russian business was like a prison yard. “When someone is coming for you, you have to kill him before he kills you. That’s the calculus that every oligarch and every Russian politician goes through every day.”
So it is, but Hermitage’s success also depended on Putin’s blessing. When he took power in 2000, the oligarchs were his rivals. Every time Hermitage exposed a fraud, Putin’s officials intervened. Until, that is, October 2003, when Putin arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s richest man and Putin’s most dangerous competitor.
Browder pictures what happens next.
“After Khodorkovsky was found guilty, most of Russia’s oligarchs went to Putin and said, ‘Vladimir Vladimirovich what can I do to make sure I won’t end up sitting in a cage?’ I wasn’t there, so I’m only speculating, but I imagine Putin’s response was something like this: ‘Fifty per cent’.”
Once the deals were done, the regime turned on Browder. Russia removed his visa, and Major Karpov led the secret police into Hermitage’s Moscow offices. The nature of the fraud they executed tells you all you need to know about Putin’s Russia. The gangsters could not seize Hermitage’s money. Very quietly, Browder had moved it from Moscow to London. Instead, they stole the company’s identity, postured as its legitimate representatives, and pretended to the tax authorities that the Russian state owed them a $230 million tax rebate. Bribed officials went along with the biggest tax fraud in Russian history and handed over the “rebate” within hours.
Putin’s supporters at home and apologists abroad justify his rule by saying that he is the nationalist leader who has made Russia strong again. Yet the Putin regime arrested and murdered Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s lawyer. (Unlike everyone else associated with Hermitage, poor Sergei did not flee the country because he believed that good people must stay and fight for a better Russia.) The Foreign Ministry made stopping Browder one of its top priorities. The Russian judiciary presided over a crime I don’t believe even Stalin committed: it organized a posthumous trial of Magnitsky’s corpse and found it guilty of the very fraud Magnitsky had exposed. The FSB harassed Hermitage in London, and Russian police officers put Browder on an Interpol wanted list. They did all of this to protect gangsters who had weakened the Russian state by stealing its tax revenues. Their behavior shows in Russia that there is no state above the crime gangs. They are all one.
Browder earned their enmity by devising a sanctions campaign that fitted the 21st century. During the Cold War, whatever privileges and wealth the Soviet elite had, they could not enjoy them abroad. Their successors spend their money in Manhattan and Mayfair. Indeed, they have a paranoid compulsion to move money to Manhattan and Mayfair, in case the regime steals it, or in case the regime falls. By lobbying Western governments to freeze the overseas assets of dozens of officials, Browder had devised a means to deprive them of the enjoyment of their loot.
To anyone who harbors illusions about Obama’s foreign policy, Browder’s account of the struggle to get sanctions passed into US law will be a salutary lesson. He received staunch support in Congress. But the Obama presidency and the Clinton State Department opposed him until the last minute. Their resistance was a bleak tribute to their greatest foreign policy misjudgment. They imagined they could “reset” relations with Russia. If they were nice to Putin, Putin would be nice to them.
The Obama administration was participating in the immortal turn the “progressive” West took after Iraq. It reasoned the Bush presidency had been a disaster, and that was true. Apparently hostile forces, it continued, were a rational reaction to western provocation, which was at best a quarter truth. And if we removed the “root cause” of our aggression, our enemies would vanish, which was pure fantasy.
John Kerry displayed the double standards that followed while he was sucking up to Obama in the hope of becoming Clinton’s successor. In 2012, when he was still chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tried to prevent the Senate approving Magnitsky sanctions until superior political force overwhelmed him. America was not a perfect country, he said, and Russia had democratic “accomplishments”—wisely he did not list them. The US should be “very mindful of the need not to be always pointing fingers and lecturing”.
Thus self-criticism prohibits criticism of others. Thus American liberals can abandon Russian liberals, and feel righteous as they leave them to their fate.
As all Western leaders impose sanctions on a revanchist and expansionist Russia today, you can see the failure of the Obama doctrine. We are all Browderists now, and maybe Browder points to the future.
I have heard him say that Putin is not as powerful as he looks. He relies on the support of the Russian elite and if that elite’s opportunities for plunder vanish, it will desert him.
No one can give you the how or the when. But his grandfather Earl Browder is best remembered in my admittedly small corner of the Left for being on the receiving end of one of the finest putdowns in the history of the socialist movement. Still loyal to Stalin, despite being purged and denounced, Browder was defending the Soviet Union at a debate at the Carnegie Hall in 1950. The former Trotskyist Max Shachtman was incandescent. He told Browder he was only alive because he was beyond Stalin’s reach. He listed the communist leaders in the Soviet empire Stalin had shot or garrotted. “There,” he said turning from the audience and jabbing his finger at Browder, “there but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse.”
One day Bill Browder will be able to say the same of Putin.
Review by Nick Cohen for The Daily Beast, 2nd February 2015
For years, Bill Browder was a winner in Russia’s markets. Then he was expelled from the country and his lawyer was murdered.
There is no gulag in today’s Russia. There are no show trials. Except, that is, for the tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was beaten to death in 2009 in prison, where he was being held on trumped-up charges for alleging that state officials had robbed Russian taxpayers of millions of dollars. He was then tried and convicted posthumously of tax fraud. His brutal death capped off the era of Wild West capitalism in Russia—a period amply and engagingly described in “Red Notice” by Bill Browder, one of its chief American participants.
For years, Mr. Browder was a winner: His hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, managed $4.5 billion in assets at its height in 2004. The next year he was expelled from Russia, his company was raided and control was handed over to a group of Russian nationals. The story of Hermitage’s takedown is the story of a vicious battle between those who believed they could get rich by living within the rules and helping guide Russia toward freer, law-based markets, and those like the oligarchs (and the Kremlin elite today) who wanted to get even richer by remaking the rules altogether.
Mr. Browder, a veteran of firms like Salomon Brothers, had made huge money in Poland investing in newly privatized state-owned companies after the 1989 collapse of communism. In 1996, he formed Hermitage, seeing even greater opportunity in Russia’s decision to privatize its industries.
Voucher privatization was supposed to be a system in which every Russian citizen—all 150 million—would receive a privatization certificate exchangeable at public auctions for stock in one of the new companies. It turned into a scramble among insiders to “acquire” these vouchers by any means. This included, by Mr. Browder’s account, the closure of regional airports to prevent employees and rival elites from getting to the auctions in Moscow. With competition suppressed, the value of each voucher did not exceed $20. As Mr. Browder notes: “Since these vouchers were exchangeable for roughly 30 percent of the shares of all Russian companies, this meant that the valuation of the entire Russian economy was only $10 billion! That was one-sixth the value of Wal-Mart!” This is how the oligarchs were born. Men like Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky gained control of whole industries for small sums.
The newly private companies were listed on the Moscow stock exchange, and their owners sought to raise capital. In 1996, Mr. Browder purchased 1% of Vladimir Potanin ’s energy company, Sidanco, for $11 million. The value of the shares skyrocketed. But in 1997, Mr. Potanin decided to push out foreign ownership through a share dilution scheme. The shares held by Hermitage would overnight be worth only a third of their previous value. When Mr. Browder complained to Boris Jordan, a U.S.-born Russian ally of Mr. Potanin, that such a scheme was illegal, he heard back from an underling: “This is Russia. Do you think we worry about these kind of things?”
Mr. Browder attributes his early success to understanding the “prison yard” rules of the Russian market, in which one must never show weakness. But he admits the importance of those Russians trying to introduce Western-style rules. Dmitry Vasiliev, then head of the Russian Federal Securities and Exchange Commission, threw the share dilution scheme out in 1998: Mr. Browder got the win, thanks to an honest regulator. Soon after Vladimir Putin became prime minister in 1999, Mr. Vasiliev was out and only prison yard rules remained.
Mr. Browder admits he was an early Putin enthusiast: He believed Mr. Putin would bring stability to the markets. He was also a minority investor in Gazprom, the oil giant that is Russia’s largest company, and he had been advocating for greater corporate transparency. Despite the fact that it was eight times the size of ExxonMobil and 12 times the size of BP, Gazprom was trading, Mr. Browder estimates, at a 99.7% discount to those companies per barrel of reserves. The reason? Rampant corruption. Mr. Browder considered getting Western investment banks to expose the fraud, but concluded that “their lips were so firmly planted on the asses of Gazprom’s management that they would never publicly acknowledge the egregious thefts going on under their noses.” The hedge-funder took it on himself to become an activist shareholder.
He should have grown wary in 2003 when Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos oil company was seized and court proceedings against the oligarch begun. But he continued agitating about Gazprom. Then, in 2005, the authorities moved against Hermitage, which had become the largest foreign-investment fund in Russia. Mr. Browder was deported as a “threat to national security” and two years later Hermitage was declared bankrupt. The new Russian owners received a tax rebate of $230 million, and the money was immediately transferred to shell companies in Cyprus. Mr. Browder claims the entire operation was controlled by the Federal Security Service, the latter-day KGB.
The tireless efforts of Sergei Magnitsky revealed this scam. But instead of going after the perpetrators, Russian authorities arrested Magnitsky in November 2008 and held him in pretrial detention for a year. He refused to recant, and as documents later revealed, he was beaten to death with rubber batons by eight officials in full riot gear. Mr. Putin said Magnitsky had died of a heart attack. The case against Mr. Browder and Magnitsky continued. Both were found guilty of tax fraud in March 2013—the first conviction of a dead person in Europe since 897, Mr. Browder writes, when “the Catholic Church convicted Pope Formosus posthumously, cut off his papal fingers, and threw his body into the Tiber.”
Mr. Browder continues the fight from abroad. He has succeeded in getting the Magnitsky Act passed through both the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament, providing visa bans and asset seizures for the Russian officials involved in the lawyer’s death. But he still gets calls from hedge-fund managers: “Hey, Bill, the Russian market is down 63% from its high four years ago. Do you think we should get in?” He dissuades them—not just for moral reasons, but because he knows they could lose everything.
Review appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 3rd February 2015
In the early 1990s Bill Browder invested $2,000 in a handful of Polish companies being privatized after the collapse of Communism. Eastern Europe was dipping a toe into the cold bath of free-market capitalism, and Mr. Browder, fresh out of Stanford University’s business school, wanted to jump in, too.
His small investment quadrupled in value within the year and went on to repay him tenfold. “For those who don’t know, the sensation of finding a ‘ten-bagger’ is the financial equivalent of smoking crack cocaine,” he writes in “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.” “Once you’ve done it, you want to repeat it over and over and over as many times as you can.”
Mr. Browder continued to smoke the crack pipe with gusto, shifting his action to Russia and creating a wildly successful investment fund, Hermitage Capital Management. His freewheeling, snappy book describes the meteoric rise, and disastrous fall, of a buccaneer capitalist who crossed the wrong people and paid a steep price.
The highs were very high. Mr. Browder excelled at sniffing out undervalued companies, rolling the dice and reaping fantastic returns. After determining that a little-known oil company called Sidanco was actually worth as much as Lukoil, for example, he bought about $11 million worth of its stock at $4 a share. The gamble was vindicated a year later when British Petroleum bought a block of the company’s stock at a 600 percent premium over that price.
Within two years after Hermitage’s founding in 1996, its assets had swelled from $25 million to more than $1 billion, making Mr. Browder the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market. In 2000, Hermitage was named the best-performing emerging-markets fund in the world, having generated returns of 1,500 percent to its original investors. Its assets would grow to $4.5 billion by 2005.
The lows, however, were very low. A hefty portion of the book describes Mr. Browder’s frantic efforts to fight off a wolf pack of oligarchs trying to muscle in on Hermitage’s action and strip its assets.
The cut and thrust, and the high stakes, make for a zesty tale. Mr. Browder and his Russian team became adept at amassing scandalous information about their foes and then presenting the findings, tied up in a neat package, to Western journalists who could inflict maximum damage.
Mr. Browder admits to a fatal miscalculation. He assumed that his American citizenship made him untouchable. In fact, he was living on borrowed time. When Vladimir V. Putin was intent on reining in the oligarchs, his interests and Mr. Browder’s coincided. But at a certain point, they did not.
In 2005, deemed a “threat to national security,” Mr. Browder was kicked out of Russia, and his companies were seized. Later the Russian government asked Interpol to issue an all-points bulletin, or red notice, for his arrest on tax evasion charges. Interpol rejected the request, calling it politically motivated. Mr. Browder was then convicted by a Russian court in absentia. “When the Russian government turns on you, it doesn’t do so mildly — it does so with extreme prejudice,” Mr. Browder notes ruefully.
Worse, the Interior Ministry arrested Sergei L. Magnitsky, Hermitage’s tax lawyer. After being held in custody for more than a year, Magnitsky was found dead on a prison floor in Moscow after being beaten and tortured.
Mr. Browder began a relentless campaign to expose and punish Mr. Magnitsky’s persecutors, turning his case into an international cause célèbre. His efforts helped pressure Congress to pass a law in late 2012, commonly known as the Magnitsky Act, that barred 18 Russian officials connected with Magnitsky’s death from entering the United States or using its banking system, and set a precedent for future visa sanctions and asset freezes. Last spring the European Parliament passed its own version of the act.
It’s a Hollywood ending, right down to the standing ovation given by more than 700 European members of Parliament after passing the legislation.
Mr. Browder makes an unlikely hero and even more unlikely capitalist. His grandfather was the head of the American Communist Party and featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1938 as “Comrade Earl Browder.” Felix Browder, Earl’s son, became a mathematics professor at the University of Chicago. Bill Browder’s brother, Thomas, is an eminent particle physicist. “In my family, if you weren’t a prodigy, you had no place on earth,” he writes.
Mr. Browder, by contrast, was a slacker. He goofed off at boarding school and barely made it into the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he spent his freshman year reliving “Animal House.”
In the ultimate act of rebellion, he set his sights on a business career, a decision that straightened him out academically and no doubt would come as a shock to his grandfather. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Browder turned his gaze eastward, toward the former Communist heartland, with plunder on his mind.
“The dominoes were falling: soon all of Eastern Europe would be free,” he writes of the tumultuous weeks after the Berlin Wall came down. “My grandfather had been the biggest Communist in America, and as I watched these events unfold, I decided that I wanted to become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.”
For a while, he was. But as Mr. Magnitzky warned him, Russian stories never have happy endings.
Mr. Browder concludes on a grim note. “I have to assume that there is a very real chance that Putin or members of his regime will have me killed someday,” he writes. For good measure, he adds, “If I’m killed, you will know who did it.”
If this sounds histrionic, there is more than one dead body littering Mr. Browder’s pages. Alexander Litvinenko probably felt safe in London until he drank a cup of radioactive tea. As Mr. Browder discovered on more than one occasion, Russians are not always known for their light touch.
Review printed in the New York Times on February 2nd 2015
EVEN by the flawed standards of the Russian legal system, the events that played out in Moscow’s Tverskoy district court in July 2013 were a farce. After a trial lasting four months, the two accused were found guilty of massive tax fraud. Yet the cage in the courtroom from which they were meant to learn their fate was empty. One of them was in London, the other was in his grave.
The dead man was Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer beaten to death by his guards in Moscow’s Butyrka jail more than three years earlier; his co-defendant was Bill Browder, the multimillionaire American investor who employed him. The message of their conviction was clear: cross the Kremlin and we will go after you, dead or alive.
Magnitsky is only one of countless people to have died in the Russian penal system. Yet his killing is the only one to have inspired its own US legislation: the Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2012 to ban those responsible from travelling to America or using its banks. The act’s passage was all down to ferocious lobbying by Browder. In this fast-paced book, he tells of his transition from businessman to human-rights campaigner.
Browder did not set out to be a crusader. Born into a family of American communists, he rebelled by devoting his life to making money. Lots of it. And, after a brief period in London working for, among others, Robert Maxwell — surely the perfect preparation for dealing with eastern European autocrats — he set off for Moscow.
Russia in the early 1990s was like a giant boot sale. President Boris Yeltsin wanted to make Russia’s transition from communism irreversible, so he privatised the state’s vast holdings and gave each citizen a voucher with which to claim their share. The process proved deeply flawed: many were happy to swap theirs for a bottle of vodka. The smart and the well connected scooped up the vouchers and used them to buy stakes in oil and gas companies for a fraction of their true value. Thus the oligarch class was born.
Browder was one of the few westerners who grasped the amount of money to be made. But while the returns were huge, so too were the risks. His first shock came when an oil company in which he invested pulled a trick that would have knocked $87m off the value of his shareholding. Browder fought to make them reverse the decision and, to his surprise, won.
Emboldened, he went on buying, turning himself into a champion of investor rights and making himself powerful enemies.
For a time, he thrived, helped by a campaign by Vladimir Putin to bring the oligarchs to heel. But the political climate changed, and when he flew back to Russia in 2005 after a weekend in London, he was barred from entering. He was the lucky one. Magnitsky, left to manage his affairs, was arrested on trumped-up charges and died after 11 months in jail.
The tricks employed by Browder’s enemies to appropriate his money are the stuff of a financial thriller, and this is what he set out to write, complete with dialogue. Assuming the author didn’t keep a detailed diary, his ability to remember conversations two decades ago is impressive; when he extends this gift to encounters that took place hundreds of miles away from him, however, it verges on the implausible. Browder comes across as a flawed hero. The determination with which he avenged his friend is commendable. Yet as long as things were going well, he had no qualms about making a fortune. Had he not fallen foul of the wrong people, he may well have continued to do so.
Review appeared in the Sunday Times on 1st February 2015
There is an unpalatable certainty about life in London these days: a middle-aged man who has made money in Russia will every so often fall off a balcony, keel over in his bathroom, or otherwise die prematurely in a mysterious way.
Bill Browder, who used to be the largest foreign investor in Russia and made hundreds of millions of dollars over there, sincerely hopes to avoid the same grisly fate. But his would-be assassins show all the signs of being as cunning as they are determined. In the absence of any other means of foolproof security, therefore, his chief defence against low railings or undetectable poisons may well be telling his story via this pacy international thriller.
Red Notice is, though, not simply an attempt to raise the concept of life insurance to a new level by lifting the lid on the evils at the heart of the Russian system - and it is not fiction. Browder does not shrink from naming names (including Vladimir Putin’s) in his expose of years of state-sponsored torture and murder simply to protect his own skin.
Since 2009 Browder has been leading a campaign to expose endemic human rights abuses perpetrated from the Kremlin downwards because the young Russian lawyer who tried to protect him from trumped up charges (after Browder annoyed the authorities by revealing the large-scale misdeeds of certain oligarchs) paid with his life. Emaciated and desperately ill, in November 2009 Sergei Magnitsky was led to a freezing isolation cell in a Moscow prison, handcuffed to the bed, and beaten to death by eight police offers for refusing to betray his client.
Rattling through the high-finance world of New York and London, and then on to the seedier side of life in Moscow, Red Notice sometimes stretches credulity. But just as Browder really is a hedge fund manager turned human rights activist, so this story of courage combined with a dash of obsessiveness is about the real here and now.
So traumatised was the London-based Browder over Magnitsky’s death that he set about seeking justice for a figure he describes as the bravest man he had ever met. He found the Foreign Office embarrassingly limp-wristed and morally cowardly, so Browder lobbied Congress instead. Through a combination of luck and sheer bloody-mindedness, the Sergei Magnitsky Act was signed into US law in 2012 and imposed visa bans and asset freezes on 28 officials involved in the lawyer’s death. Now Browder is working on persuading European governments to follow suit.
An obsessively-driven twice-married money-making machine, Browder is not necessarily all that likeable. But he reminds us that heroism sometimes lies in unlikely places. Browder deserves our respect, and most of all, our protection through reading this book.
Review appeared in the Independent on January 31st 2015
This is the tale of an accidental activist. An American goes to Russia in the Wild East 1990s. He makes a pile of money investing in the stock market, runs afoul of Vladimir Putin and his thugocracy of thieving oligarchs, and gets deported. His lawyer is killed.
Instead of lying low, he fights back. He becomes an international crusader for justice. The same skills that brought him financial success — stubbornness, creativity, and media savvy — now bring about an act of Congress.
Not a proverbial one, but an actual act passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama.
Bill Browder, the unexpected hero and author of this suspenseful memoir, is no ordinary investment banker. His grandfather was Earl Browder, leader of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and 40s and twice a failed candidate for president. Purposefully rebelling against his left-wing family, Bill Browder became an ardent capitalist.
As a young management consultant in London, he expressed a vague interest in Eastern Europe, and just after the Berlin Wall falls, he had a hilarious escapade trying to restructure a Polish bus company. This led to him launching his own investment firm, Hermitage Capital. In December 1995 at age 31, Browder moved to Moscow.
It is fascinating to follow him as he navigates the kleptocratic Russian economy, with its stonewalling secretaries and opaque, if not nonexistent official annual reports. He describes an expatriate life both odd and mundane (Hermitage uses secondhand picnic tables as desks); dangerous (Browder gets bodyguards after he publicly protests when Russian oligarchs start to rip off minority shareholders like himself); and, at times, hedonistic (parties featured caviar and champagne and “the next thing you knew, some slender vixen with perfect lips and mysterious eyes was wrapping herself around you as your mind calculated where the nearest bed — or private room of any kind — was”).
But most of the story is about finance, revolving around things like valuation anomalies and share dilutions, and all of it comes surprisingly alive in Browder’s vivid, if sometimes breathless storytelling. Hermitage Capital started with $25 million under management; it rose to more than $1 billion in 1997; crashed to $100 million in 1998; and a few years later skyrocketed $4.5 billion. Browder became the largest foreign investor in the country
Then in 2005 while flying back from London, Browder was detained at a Moscow airport for 15 hours and expelled from Russia with no explanation.
Here “Red Notice’’ takes a dark turn. Moscow doesn’t stop at kicking him out. Law enforcement and tax officials try to steal his assets with arbitrary tax claims (after his expulsion, Browder stealthily sells all of Hermitage’s shares in Russian companies). They take over Hermitage’s shell company and request and receive a fake tax refund of $230 million.
After trumping up criminal charges against Browder — now in London — they ask Interpol to issue a “red notice,” an international arrest warrant, for him. Interpol refuses. Moscow convicts him of tax evasion in absentia. His Russian lawyers fight these absurd, almost Kafkaesque developments. The government imprisons one of them, a thirty-something tax attorney named Sergei Magnitsky who is tortured and in 2009 killed in detention.
An underlying thread of “Red Notice’’ is that to win and to win big, you have to know how to work the media-industrial complex. During his decade in Moscow, whenever he discovered something shady happening to a company he had invested in, Browder researched and cobbled together a dossier and then shared it with journalists to bring pressure for changes.
This strategy, which proved effective in business, also works when he is looking to punish his lawyer’s killers. Browder the investor morphs into Browder the human rights activist. He comes to Washington and lobbies hard, pulling out his Rolodex and getting meetings with key people. He pushes stories to the press and creates YouTube videos about the corrupt Russian civil servants who on small salaries manage to buy posh apartments and vacation overseas.
In December 2012, President Obama signs the Magnitsky Act: It bans 18 Russian officials responsible for Magnitsky’s death from entering the United States and freezes their assets. You might remember this measure because right after it became law, Russia retaliated by forbidding American families from adopting Russian children.
Browder’s media skills are also in evidence in the blurbs for “Red Notice,’’ as he manages to assemble an impressively eclectic, all-star cohort including Senator John McCain, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, biographer Walter Isaacson, playwright Tom Stoppard, and two members of feminist Russian rock band Pussy Riot.
It is a wonder Michael Lewis didn’t blurb it. “Red Notice’’ at the beginning is strikingly similar to Lewis’s first book, “Liar’s Poker’’: the rake’s progress of a young innocent who discovers a lot of dog-eat-dog avarice, uncouth language, and ill-tempered vice presidents in the financial world. Browder even works for a time at the same notorious firm that Lewis did, Salomon Brothers.
Browder is a banker not a writer, so you can’t expect his memoir to be Lewis-like in detail or control. One small, but obvious note of tone deafness. Underneath the drama of his career is a rarefied private life. There is a continual drumbeat of receptions at Davos, hikes in Cornwall, a “lovely brunch at the fifth-floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols” in London and trips to Cape Town, Lake Como, Crete, Paris and the south of France. It seems that every time there is a crisis at work, Browder is vacationing at a five-star hotel. It isn’t surprising, but after a while it feels like boorish place-dropping.
But there has been a heavy price paid for such luxuries. Browder dedicates the book to Magnitsky, “the bravest man I’ve ever known.” You get the sense that Browder is still reeling from his lawyer’s death, and this book, like all the lobbying he did for the Magnitsky act, is another way to honor his memory.
Review appeared in the Boston Globe on 31st January 2015
The former financier's autobiography is a gripping account of his rise and fall from Russia - and his fight for justice.
Bill Browder is angry. Angry in a quiet, measured kind of way, but angry all the same. He is also full of guilt.
‘My main regret was going to Russia in the first place, because it ended up with a man dying,’ he says.
There are people Browder blames more than himself for the death of his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was denied treatment for a painful pancreatic condition, beaten up and then left to die in a Russian jail cell in 2009 after he uncovered a $230m (£151m) government fraud. But it was Browder who put Magnitsky in harm’s way.
Browder was once the biggest foreign investor in the Russian stock market and a big cheerleader for President Vladimir Putin. But now he is on an earnest, single-minded crusade to bring those he holds responsible for Magnitsky’s death to justice – including Putin himself.
We have heard this story before. ‘Sergei was a national hero, who uncovered crime in his own country. It will not go unpunished,’ he said when MT interviewed him here in his Soho office last summer.
But it is so powerful it bears repeating again – not least because Browder is about to release his autobiography Red Notice. Indeed, the book so hooked our editor Matthew Gwyther that he came along as well to ask a further round of questions.
It’s a gripping read - tightly written with no narrative slack points. The account of how Magnitsky discovered Russian officials had stolen Browder’s companies to commit the aforementioned fraud rattles along like a detective thriller. And even before all of that kicks off, Browder’s journey from prep school burnout to investing billions in Russia, via Stanford business school, the eastern European investment business of corrupt media magnate Robert Maxwell (‘it was like a corner shop’) and run-down hotels in post-Communist Poland, is fascinating (helped along by a ghostwriter who Browder says worked with him on every single sentence).
Published in Management Today on January 30th 2015