Bill Browder: The anti-Putin activist looking for payback | Talk to Al Jazeera



the turmoil of post-soviet Russia in the 90s saw a handful of businesspeople grow rich while the country itself grew poor and the world stage a once proud nation was humiliated into the mix of chaotic capitalism and Wild West opportunity stepped a young Stanford Business graduate ready to make his fortune bill Browder built the largest foreign investment fund in Russia reveling in deals that saw his investments increased tenfold overnight emboldened by his own success Browder began to speak out about a culture of corporate corruption soon falling foul of Russia's new President Vladimir Putin in 2005 Browder was expelled from the country and declared a threat to national security his Hermitage investment fund was raided and he says a complex fraud conducted by Russian officials resulted in the theft of some 230 million dollars it was a scheme uncovered by Browder's lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who's later death in prison apparently the result of torture gave Browder a thirst for revenge and justice purpose of Putin's regime has been to commit terrible crimes in 2012 the United States Congress passed the Magnitsky Act aimed at freezing the assets of those suspected of financial crimes and human rights abuses and Magnitsky style provisions are being adopted by the European Union so Russia has a country where a thousand individuals have stolen all the money bill Browder multi-millionaire investor turned empty Putin activist talks to Al Jazeera bill burrata thank you for talking to Al Jazeera you've been on record describing yourself as Vladimir Putin's public enemy number one is that something that scares you or do you wear it as a badge of honor well I would say both I mean of course when Vladimir Putin wants to go after you he's got resources and he's not constrained in ways that others are and so I live a very precarious life which may and very suddenly and tragically however the reason that I'm in this position is that Vladimir Putin and his regime killed my lawyer Sergei Magnitsky for uncovering a massive Putin connected corruption scheme and they killed him in a horribly sadistic way at the age of 37 and I've been going after them ever since they killed him and we've created a law in the name of Sergei Magnitsky in the United States in the UK in Canada and the Estonia Latvia Lithuania and many other countries and this law Putin hates so much and that's the reason why he hates me and the fact that this law is causing him so much grief is something which which shows that we've got him back and that's what you wear with pride you've been convicted in Russia in absentia on two counts accused of tax fraud arrested very publicly in Madrid last year accused among other things of killing mr. Magnitsky yourself and then we come to this meeting in Helsinki between Trump Donald Trump the US president and mr. Putin last year when Putin said we'll give you the twelve indicted military intelligence officers indicted by special counsel Robert Muller but what we want in return is you bill Browder how did that make you feel well again I was I was actually in America at the time and and Donald Trump's reaction to that was I think that's a brilliant idea mmm so I of course I I couldn't feel anything other than a little uncomfortable but two things that made me feel first was that in America Donald Trump doesn't have his own personal rendition squad this has to go through the Department of Justice and the courts and the United States the rule of law wouldn't have handed me over to the Russians whatever Donald Trump's reaction was but again the fact that I'm living rent-free in Putin's head shows just how how effective the Magnitsky Act has been that I would be the one thing he brings up at the summit and so from from my perspective it only emboldened me to carry on and to push harder to get other countries new Magnitsky and it was an extraordinary example wasn't it of the state of modern politics and geopolitics his Vladimir Putin Russian President all he's done in the last few years in Ukraine and everything decried by Obama and the Obama administration Donald Trump willing to embrace the man willing to trade you for secrets extraordinary well it was extraordinary what he was willing to do but it was also very comforting to see how the system rallied around to protect me and and the next day he didn't walk back his his agreement to this thing the next day after that he didn't but then the Senate the US Senate then had a vote would it be a good thing or a bad thing to hand me over and along with I should point out eleven others and and they voted 98 to zero not to hand me over which shows that that whatever Donald Trump is thinking that's not a consensus opinion among his people or in America generally no you were involved at the moment exclusively I understand in following the money trail what happened to the missing millions from your fund in Russia in the process of that you know many people wonder what the basis of this relationship really Trump and Putin in is it about money is it about favors have you in you're following the trail discovered any secrets there well everybody asked me that because so for nine years we've been looking to who got the two hundred and thirty million dollars of tax money that we paid that Sergei Magnitsky discovered was stolen and went back to various corrupt officials we've traced that for nine years and we found all the money and through law enforcement investigations through private investigations through whistleblowers and so far there has not been any money they went to Donald Trump having said that there's a lot of money they went to Vladimir Putin okay well leaving the money to one side I mean youyou feature in the murder inquiry in another respect in that in a secret meeting that took place in Trump Tower in mid-2016 campaign time between Trump officials and a senior Russian lawyer the key subject matter was you in Dean house mr. Mueller contacted you about that well I can't really talk about what mr. Miller has contacted me about or not but what I can say is that in on June 9th 2016 Natalya vessel Nets Gaia a Russian lawyer the lawyer involved in that meeting the lawyer involved in that meeting who went to Trump Tower along with a couple of other Russians and sat down with Donald Trump jr. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and this is this is now before Donald Trump just after he was nominated before he was elected president and they said if your father time talking to Donald Trump jr. Donald Trump is elected president can you repeal the Magnitsky Act and could you indict Bill Browder and she wasn't there just as a private citizen she was there effectively on on behalf of Vladimir Putin in the Russian government and it's remarkable from from almost every different standpoint that that the Russian government would send an emissary to talk about me in the Magnitsky Act is remarkable that Donald Trump jr. his son his son-in-law and his campaign manager would meet with his Russian to talk so is it possible do you think in the end that if collusion is proven that it may turn out that Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Magnitsky Act were powerful motivators well we know for sure that the Russians were there because of the love me in the Magnitsky Act and we know for sure that they supported Donald Trump because they thought he would be more favorable about these issues than Hillary Clinton and we know for sure that they were willing to do things in order to make that happen what we don't know is whether the Donald would whether Donald Trump personally agreed to and colluded all we know is what the Russians intention was we don't know what Donald Trump's response was going back to the money trail the basis of the Act of course passed by Barack Obama or under the administration of 2012 how successful in practical terms has it been in the last six years in terms of strangling the funds of the oligarchs in terms of calling human rights abusers to account well so extremely successful it's been a dramatic and in sort of tectonic success and why has it been so successful because because of the nature of Russia so Russia is a country where a thousand individuals have stolen all the money from the country literally a thousand individuals have stolen a trillion dollars over a 20-year period so if stolen all this money and so the other 145 million Russians are destitute poverty there's a thousand individuals and so historically when you do sanctions you sanction a country and it's all very blunt and the average person and starves and and the elite they fly in their champagne and caviar and private jets but instead what the Magnitsky Act does and the successor sanctions rules have done which have all been copies of the Magnitsky Act is go after those thousand people and there's nothing there ready to kill for money there's nothing more painful for them to have their money frozen and it's and even if you haven't frozen their money just the the idea that their money could be frozen it's like a sort of sort of Damocles hanging over their head and and and and that's why Putin hates the Magnitsky Act so much is because he's a kleptocrat first and foremost I believe he's worth two hundred billion dollars I believe that he keeps that money in the name of other people offshore and and if that money is put at risk of being frozen and some of it has been frozen that touches him more than anything else more than anything else the actors also had its powers expanded it's not just focused on Russia used recently against seventeen Saudis believed responsible for the death of Jamarcus Raj key was that a victory for you to find that the act was now being broadened out so after the Magnitsky Act was passed in 2012 by Senator John McCain and Senator Ben Cardin they looked at Putin's reaction which was hysteria he literally lost his cool and they said we're on to something big here and there's no reason why a Chinese villain Saudi villain or a Venezuelan villain should be able to get a better deal than the Russian villains and so they they created the global Magnitsky Act which passed unanimously in 2016 which goes after bad guys everywhere and and and and the United States government has been rolling it out quietly and steadily across all different parts of the world and and when Jamel khashoggi what was was brutally murdered I saw this and I thought this is like the textbook case for the Magnitsky Act he was a truth teller he was exposing corruption in his regime in the regime that he came from the Saudi regime and then they lured him to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and extra-judicial II murdered him in the most gruesome and horrific way if there was no that this was this was the textbook case for the magnet for the global Magnitsky Act and then they used it they used it on 17 Saturdays and they didn't use it on Mohammed bin Salman and I and I along with many members of Congress think that that's that's really bad and expanded as well in recent months into the European Union what what do you foresee for its its use in the EU can you see it for instance beginning to influence what appears to be the fairly insidious and creeping Russian influence in European political affairs I'm thinking of Russian money allegedly used to prop up the populist government in Italy also suggestions of Russian money being involved it breaks it tell me about the European angle well so the Europe is key it United States is the most powerful country in the world but if you get the United States doing sanctions and Europe not the then these guys are all going to the South of France and buying villas on the hotel in front of the hotel do cop and in Marbella then in Sardinia and so the Europe has to has to conform with the rest of the world in order for this to be an effective policy and Europe up until now hasn't now in December we had a breakthrough in Europe where they were finally after nine years of my campaigning they finally agreed in principle to do it but agreeing in principle and having a law there's a lot of dots to connect and the devil is in the details and and the one thing I can say is that Europe is where the Russians are most active they find lots of corrupt politicians and officials in the United Kingdom in Italy and in Spain everywhere and and they corrupt them and and so Europe is a very hard place to get this legislation passed they're fighting like hell behind the scenes right now to try to stop it and they've got countries like Hungary and Italy who are sort of at the moment sort of expressing objections and and even if it does get passed getting 28 countries to agree on who to sanction is a very hard thing to do but it is the big prize if we get Europe then we got them where they where it really hits them which is the villa's Lee all that kind of stuff let me ask you about Sergei Magnitsky now he was your lawyer in Russia as you explained he died in prison in 2009 and all of these global acts and legislation are in his name do you feel responsible for his death well I I feel extremely responsible for his death he wouldn't be dead he wouldn't have died he wouldn't have suffered some horrific torture if he hadn't been my lawyer they effectively tortured him and killed him as my proxy and and so and he was a young truly amazing great man of the two children great great life ahead of him and and it was cut short in the most horrific way at the age of 37 and for me every day I feel terrible about and and that's that it's that feeling of guilt and that feeling of responsibility and that feeling of anger that drives me for for nearly a decade to devote my entire life to getting justice for him well you've talked about revenge at what point do you imagine you might feel avenged well it's not about revenge as it's about justice but but you know just as virtual it's part of justice it's that's what justice is you don't let people get away with with murder and but it's gone well beyond Sergey Magnitsky um you know other many other victims come to me with their issues and their problems and and it's it's become his legacy to to try to try to create a tool a tool of fighting impunity and in his name and so it's not just about justice or revenge or any of those things it's also about his legacy you've talked about the thousand oligarchs you've talked about the trillions that they stole taking you back to your time at the beginning in Russia as the Soviet Union fell you also made a fortune in a fund that was investing in the privatizations of the day taking advantage essentially of the collapse of the Soviet system isn't that exactly what they did that's definitely not what they did so first of all what I did was I when when they privatized the country they had a stock market and I invested in the stock market and I invested in big companies in the stock market and what I did which is totally different than what they did was that the oligarchs and these corrupt officials were stealing from gas from the biggest state company lukoil etc and I came up with an investment strategy which was to help to try to stop the stealing and and to expose these guys and so I was doing just the opposite which is they were stealing from the state from the people from their companies and I was researching how they were doing the stealing and then exposing the research through the international media to get them to stop it which is how they which is why the regime turned on me and went after me in such a vicious and horrible way but isn't there a gap in timing here initially you made your money and then you turned to criticizing No gene initially you made your money in much the same way they did by taking advantage of a collapsing system well the only similarity is that we were both investing in the system at the very same time the difference was that almost immediately after I started I started exposing corruption which is which is III think that anybody who knew me in Russia at the time said that's what Russia needs that's a very brave thing to do and it's a good thing for Russia nobody said it's a bad thing to to invest in companies and I was doing it for money I wasn't doing it for the goodness of the state but to invest in companies exposed corruption and try to stop it that definitionally is is is a good thing well given what was going on at that time then it can't have come as much of a surprise to you when the rug was pulled out from under your feet because it had happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs he's now a friend and ally of yours here in London he stuck his nose into opposition politics he criticized the Kremlin and he had his wings clipped as did all the others you must have seen that and thought what if I carry on like this the same fate before me or did you feel somehow sort of immune as a foreigner well it arrogance it was arrogance it was stupidity it was bad bad judgment but but it was also circumstance so for a while I could get away with doing it for a very weird reason which was that when Vladimir Putin came to power he he was he was really sort of powerless um because the oligarchs were stealing power from him and so every time I was exposed one of these oligarchs he would come to my aid this is at the very beginning around the year 2000 he would come to my aid and and and and there's this expression your enemy's enemy is your friend and so for a while Vladimir Putin was on my side you know – cleaning up Russia the problem was that he wasn't trying to get rid of the oligarchs he just wanted to become the biggest oligarch himself and he effectively did that by arresting michael horticultural reaches man in russia you put the richest man in russia in jail and you've any other television cameras to film him sitting in a cage what's your natural reaction gonna be as another oligarch is is you don't want to be in a cage and that was the moment that the oligarchs came to him and said what do we have to do flatter me or to not sit in this cage and he said 50% and so at that moment and that was in late 2003 – going into 2004 that was the moment that Vladimir Putin turned and turned into the biggest oligarch and that was the moment that my activities became intolerable – he no longer useful to him in Deen I mentioned your arrest in Madrid last year Interpol warrants a few convictions in absentia do you fear for your life well I am I live in a very precarious position where any day I could be killed arrested illegally rendered back to Russia but I don't spend my life living in fear because if I did then they would have already achieved 90% of their objective and so I take precautions when and how I can I know that probably all the precautions I take can't prevent the Russians from killing me if they really want to kill me and I carry on doing what I'm doing I'm not gonna I'm not gonna stand down Paul you've chosen quite some place in which to do it London the UK a country in which 12-13-14 estimated Russian critics have lost their lives have come to a sticky end in dubious circumstances in just recent years why here why are you in London why are you living such a public existence well as I said I I'm I'm not the person who's gonna live in fear I'm not the person who's gonna withdraw and not the person who's gonna go into hiding my reaction is to go straight back at them and I'm not going to change locations and you know you know fate may may you know do me a very ugly blow but but that's the decision I've taken well from from the perspective of being in London and in the context of the wider European question which we mentioned it earlier why do you think these things keep happening in Britain is it a case that Britain is itself compromised in terms of its ability to deal with Russia because of all the money parked here because of brexit because it can't in a sense afford to alienate countries like Russia well what I've seen is that the British government on a regular basis doesn't create consequences for really horrific crimes committed by the Russian government in this country Alexander Litvinenko was murdered with radioactive polonium in 2006 and it was discovered that was the Russian government who did this Russian FSB and there was no serious consequence as just a few diplomats expelled alexander purple-ish me a whistleblower in our case was killed after jogging outside his home in Surrey the police didn't even investigate it as a murder and then of course the scrip all poisoning where high-grade military chemical weapons were used in in a Cathedral town in the centre of the UK and the only thing that happened was 23 diplomats were expelled and those 23 diplomatic slots are now being negotiated to be replaced that's a pretty undiplomatic language passed between the two but a diplomatic language words are cheap there was no consequences and so it's created an environment to allow this to happen and then the question is why and the answer is that this country is compromised because there is Russian money that's polluted the political process here and I've seen it up close and personal where members of the British establishment and in British lawmaking bodies are taking money to support Russians in the Magnitsky case in other cases take Lord Barker he's a member of the House of Lords um it's a he's a lawmaker and he's on the payroll of Oleg Deripaska running around the world trying to reduce sanctions on the other why is that not illegal maybe it is illegal I don't know but but that's outrageous and and that's allowed to happen and nothing is nothing's being done about it you've described Vladimir Putin not as a man of conviction or ideology but as a modern-day Pablo Escobar he vinery Putin doesn't have he's not he's not like Josef Stalin he's not doing all these crimes for some communist reason he's not he's not doing this for some religious reason he's doing this from he's a kleptocrat all he cares about is money and staying alive but and and that makes him much more similar to a Pablo Escobar than a Joseph Stalin or a Dolf Hitler the problem is that you give Pablo Escobar the powers of a sovereign state with military and intelligence services and nuclear weapons and that's an extremely scary combination well speaking of staying alive and we certainly hope you do do you feel that the efforts that you've put in place now are unstoppable even potentially come a day when you're not around to to lobby constantly in their cause yeah absolutely the the Magnitsky act is now turned into a viral phenomenon it's jumping from country to country to country there's Magnitsky proposals all over the world in different Parliament's and governments etc and of course I can help and I can stir up the pot and make things happen but without my presence they would happen at the same time and in addition to that the the money laundering investigation the who got the 230 million dollars a Sergei Magnitsky was killed over has led to a massive international money laundering investigation which has snared danske bank Nordea bank Swedbank credit Swiss UBS banks all over the world there 16 countries with money laundering investigations going on as a result of the Magnitsky case and has marched much much larger than just of 230 million dollars bill Browder thank you for talking to Al Jazeera thank you thank you you




Comments
  1. Two cocksuckers licking the Queen's balls. Amazing how the Act does not touch any of the real oligarchs who stole money together with him for 10 years and live abroad now. Aren't they the real thieves? Ah but they all have one thing in common, they speak Hebrew.

  2. So we are to assume that this businessperson who went to Russia to make fast money is an expert in corruption? Meantime, is he an expert from making mistakes or was he born as a moral gentleman that led him to his business skills? By the way, what IS HIS BUSINESS SKILL?

  3. The interviewer does not cross-examine his allegations at all. It is obvious the US tried to do what it has done to it's colonies and what the EU did to the new countries that joined the EU. Buy their companies, get them in debt to Western banks, and so on.

  4. Let's be clear here this guy is a vulture a capitalist if there ever was one. His idea was to loot and plunder Russia. I'm glad the russians showed him the door. Don't have any sympathy for his elk.

  5. another headless chicken running around the MSM trying to secure coalition for his capitalists gain. things are starting to backfire on him and only time will tell. time is out of his favor as his lobbying efforts are in decline. he is so desperate and things are falling apart for him.

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