Bill Browder

An Interview with Bill Browder: A Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

in Opinion by

Legendary investor and now human rights campaigner, Bill Browder, discusses his future plans and shares his views on how the Czech Republic can promote greater human rights in Russia. For those less familiar with the Browder story, William ‘Bill’ Browder, founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, was until 2005 the largest foreign investor in Russia. With a reputation for critical research and shareholder activism, Hermitage Capital was both loved by investors and loathed by Russian oligarchs in equal measure.

Bill Browder
“If I could do it all over again, I would have never gone to Russia.” Bill Browder

While Hermitage Capital’s activities were initially tolerated, the exposure of shady practices at state owned companies, e.g. Gazprom, became an annoyance once President Putin had consolidated his grip on power. Having fallen foul of powerful Russian interests, in 2005 Browder was denied entry into Russia. In 2007, following a police raid on the Moscow headquarters of Hermitage, the group was accused of tax fraud. Then, in 2009, while trying to expose that the US$230 million tax related fraud had been committed by Russian government officials, Hermitage Capital’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested. Accused of the fraud he had investigated and exposed, Sergei Magnitsky later died in a Moscow prison after 11 months of pre-trial detention. There was evidence, verified by the Moscow State Oversight Commission that Magnitsky had suffered both torture and medical neglect while in prison.

As a consequence of this experience, and especially the tragic death of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder has spent the time since Sergei Magnitsky’s death campaigning for the imposition of visa bans and asset freezes on individual human rights abusers, especially those who played a role in Magnitsky’s ‘’false arrest, torture and death’’. In February 2015, Browder published the New York Times bestseller, Red Notice which recounts his experience in Russia and his ongoing fight for justice for Sergei Magnitsky.

Having had to decline an invitation to the Czech Republic, due to concerns about the Czech government’s close relationship with Russia, Browder kindly agreed to share his future plans for promoting human rights and his views on how the Czech Republic itself can help promote the issue.

Your book, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice was widely acclaimed. Can we expect some sort of follow-up? “Red Notice is currently being developed into a feature film. I am also working on a second book which will follow the campaign for justice for Sergei Magnitsky since 2012.”

Magnitsky legislation
“Magnitsky legislation is currently underway in Canada and Lithuania. Hopefully the Czech Republic is next.”

After the U.S. Magnitsky Act and the imposition of European Union sanctions on those connected with the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky: What are your priorities now? Is there anything else that can or should be done? ‘’The US was the first to impose these sanctions with the passage of the 2012 “Magnitsky Act.” A Global Magnitsky Bill, which broadens the scope of the US Magnitsky Act to human rights abusers around the world was passed in December 2016. Estonia adopted Magnitsky legislation in December 2016, and the UK followed in April 2017. These are great successes, but my fight for justice continues.   Magnitsky legislation is currently underway in Canada and Lithuania. Hopefully, the Czech Republic is next.’’

It was recently reported that Nikolai Gorokhov, the Magnitsky family’s lawyer, was seriously injured after ‘falling out of a window’ just one day before he was scheduled to appear in a Moscow court. Is it just a ‘coincidence’ or do you think there may have been a foul play to try and silence/intimidate him? ‘’Nikolai Gorokhov represented the Magnitsky family. The circumstances surrounding his accident are highly suspicious. The ‘fall’ happened the day before Nikolai was also due to appear in front of the Moscow City Appeals Court to argue against the Tverskoi District Court’s refusal to consider a new criminal complaint filed by Sergei Magnitsky’s mother in relation to the discovery of  “Pavlov Leaks” – a series of electronic communications between Russian lawyer Andrei Pavlov and other members and associates of the Klyuev Organized Crime Group.’’

You have argued in the past that London is a haven for dirty money. What concrete measures do you think should be taken to combat this? ‘’On April 27th 2017 the UK approved Magnitsky Sanctions as part of the Criminal Finances Bill. The provision gives the British government the power to seize assets of gross human rights violators. The UK Magnitsky legislation protects those who “have sought to expose the illegal activity carried out by a public official or a person acting in an official capacity, or to obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.”.’’

Do you see yourself as a money manager or human rights campaigner? ‘’Since Sergei Magnitsky was murdered, I have taken it upon myself to get justice for Sergei as my main activity. I have given up my life as a businessman, and now I am a full-time human rights activist.’’

Many central-European states, including the Czech Republic, maintain close political and economic ties with Russia. Should these ties be a cause for concern? ‘’Very much so. I find it hard to understand how countries that have lost their freedom during the Soviet occupation would even contemplate getting close to Russia.’’

What message do you have for those who seek to lift the economic and political sanctions imposed on Russia? What message would you give Czech President Zeman and US President Trump? ‘’ I find this shocking.’’ Reflecting on recent events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Browder adds: ‘’unless the Czechs want him [Putin] to invade the Czech Republic, you should do everything possible to keep the pressure on him.’’

What advice would you give investors who suspect semi-official corruption whether in Russia or elsewhere? ‘’Don’t engage with corrupt officials under any circumstances. The results are always bad.’’

Do you have any regrets? ‘’If I could do it all over again, I would have never gone to Russia.’’

Jeremy Monk,
Investment Director,
AKRO investiční společnost, a.s.
Prague

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