Whew, what a book! I wish I could give it ten stars! I wish I could put it in the hands of everyone I know and then some! I wish I could put it in the hands of President Trump and everyone he deals with because the Russia we all think of is not the Russia that exists in the world today. It will never become a country that considers the rights of human beings, children or those being victimized. It is self-serving and vindictive beyond anything an American could possibly conceive of, because their world, with all of its warts, is far superior in all ways than a Russia ruled by Putin.
Bill Browder, as a young American, made his fortune by uncovering and exposing Russian oligarchs engaged in fraudulent business practices in order to enrich themselves. He buys stock in their undervalued companies and earns high profits for his clients. He was the head of The Heritage Capital Management Investment Fund, a billion dollar Russian hedge fund. Too soon, he found himself embroiled in one of the biggest Russian scandals of the century. Unbelievably, it also began to involve the biggest oligarch of all, Vladimir Putin, a man who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. A former KGB agent, he was a good communist and was the head of the Russian government and its people. He was brutal and respected no laws but his own. He was, indeed, the supreme dictator, protected by all those who feared that defying them would cost them their lives or place them in prison for years. The whole imbroglio began, quite unexpectedly, in 2005, when Bill Browder was delayed at the Russian airport and denied entry into the country. There was some kind of a visa problem. After many hours in which he was made to wait without food or drink, sitting on a hard chair, he was summarily declared persona non grata, without explanation, and escorted to a plane and forcibly expelled from Russia.
The first third of the book takes the reader through his background, his ultimate rise and fall and rise again on the economic spectrum, which enabled him to become one of the wealthiest foreign businessmen in Russia, although also one of the most feared and hated by the government or those in power. Browder naively believed he was untouchable in a corrupt country where truth is whatever the leader says it is and has no relationship whatsoever with reality. Self-preservation governs the behavior of most people involved in the business, government and private world of this dictatorship. One’s fortune could turn on a dime from good to bad and back again, or not. What happened to Bill happened because he believed he was above the workings of the Russian government, above their corruption, however, corruption was alive and well and prospering.
When his efforts to expose corruption no longer served the needs of Putin, but defied him in his own efforts to amass a personal fortune, Browder was in deep trouble with no one able to throw him a life preserver. As his efforts to save his fund and himself become almost impossible, Browder decides to tell all. He engages the top people in Russian affairs to assist him in both England and Russia, but the wheels of justice turn very slowly, if at all, in that corner of the world. Politics played a part front and center, inhibiting his efforts to put out the truth about how he was being blackmailed and falsely accused of crimes he did not commit. Someone was trying to steal his business and destroy his life and his reputation.
Browder engages Sergei Magnitsky to represent him legally, and this sets the story in motion. It doesn’t seem real, but it sadly is too real. Magnitsky is unable to reverse the effort to bankrupt Browder and strip him of influence. Someone high up must be behind it all because records have been falsified and money has changed hands with forged documents that point at Browder and his associates. What begins as a case of tax fraud snowballs into a monumental fraudulent scheme which goes on for years and effects the lives of many people who reside inside and outside of Russia. As the issue becomes more and more convoluted and circuitous, with no discernible way to preserve his business, those involved soon realize that their very lives are in danger. Corrupt factions have the power of unknown, powerful authorities behind them; they can raid and confiscate any business and then steal their records with impunity. No one, no country, no organization seems able to intercede and prevent their crimes. They have all the cards. Diplomacy seems meaningless. Sanctions are ineffective. Politics takes the center stage and interferes in the just handling of this travesty of justice.
When, ultimately, Magnitsky is found dead in his jail cell, at the age of 37, after being held for months without justification or evidence of a crime, Browder is devastated. Magnitsky has suffered terrible deprivation, torture and solitude. He had no recourse to a just system. No one listened to Browder’s tale of woe. England and the United States, the Hague and others, all put politics first until the final curtain came down. Then the full force of the danger theywere all in dawned on others and some were willing to listen as Browder decided to devote himself to get justice for Sergei and guarantee that he did not die in vain.
Politics seems to supersede human rights in many stages of this fight for justice, as he makes every effort to punish those responsible. There are those that were motiviated to help him, some out of guilt for having originally ignored his story of the fraud and corruption being perpetrated by those in power in Russia, and some were genuinely moved by the horrific nature of the offense Russia committed against an ordinary citizen once they learned of it. Some stand out for their outstanding effort to seek justice for Sergei Magnitsky. Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Joe Lieberman and others were soon in his corner. But the Obama administration and Senator Kerry were obstacles that stood steadfastly in the way of having the Magnitsky Act (It was originally called the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 ) passed; why would they want to prevent the passage of this Act? They stood in the way of the law that would punish all those involved in such heinous behavior for their own personal, political gain. The Obama administration wanted to reset its relationship with Russia and feared supporting the Act would derail the effort. (This is exactly the opposite viewpoint of the Democrats today, illustrating another purely political motive.) Senator John Kerry wanted to become the next Secretary of State, replacing the seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. The Magnitsky Act which would prevent those on the list from traveling to the United States and which would freeze their assets in the United States banks, was almost derailed by purely political and selfish intentions
Every page in this book fills the reader with anticipation of some other roadblock, threat or injustice which will prevent the realization of a victory for those who were unfairly and unjustly placed in harm’s way, for those who were murdered in the effort to hide the truth when no amount of torture could force a false confession. When another of the whistleblowers was also found dead, as the Magnitsky Act was finally passed on December 14, 2012, Browder realized they were all still in grave danger. Russia did not like to lose and the thugs who created the problem and stole the money were angry. They wanted revenge and were determined to get it.
Bill Browder, now a British citizen, had a fine education. He attended the University of Colorado, The University of Chicago and Stanford Business School. His father was a mathematics professor at Harvard in Cambridge, MA. His grandfather had been the head of the Communist Party and twice ran for President of the United States, unsuccessfully. In defiance of the extreme socialist view he was exposed to, he decided to pursue his ill-fated career in capitalism. This book reads like a spy novel written by a best-selling author. The pages turn themselves as each threat to Bill and his employees and associates is exposed and as each action taken puts all of them in more and more danger. The very idea that this is a true story will defy the reader’s imagination.
*** In 2016, a version of the Magnitsky Act, which was championed by Ben Cardin from its inception, was passed by Congress. This Act expanded the power of the original version and allowed The United States to place sanctions on any foreign government officials found guilty of human rights abuses anyplace in the world.