If you want to get to grips with Russia’s dark underbelly, read this. It’s part spy thriller, part memoir, part Hollywood in its craziness. Half the time, I couldn’t believe what was going on. But that’s just it – it’s all fact.
Back in the late 1990s, author Bill Browder was a maverick American financier in post cold-war Russia who shamelessly bought up shares in catastrophically undervalued companies to make gazillions for himself and his clients. Along the way, he helped expose a $230 million state-sanctioned scam and is kicked out of Russia. Next thing, a “red notice” is served by Russia to Interpol to extradite Browder so he can face charges. Scary times.
You don’t piss off Vladimir Putin without paying for it and it’s Browder’s lawyer and friend, Sergei Magnitsky, who pays the price. He’s dumped into jail, tortured for a false confession then brutally beaten to death for resisting.
Shocked, angry, and filled with guilt, Browder puts on boxing gloves and jumps into the ring to fight for justice for his friend, eventually getting the Magnitsky Act passed. No small feat when the world was still schmoozing Putin. The goal was to punish high-end Russian officials implicated in Sergei Magnitsky’s murder by blocking their visas and freezing their assets. In everyday language that means no more lavish yachting escapades on the Med, no more shopping sprees in New York and LA, and no access to their fancy condos in Florida. Putin’s oligarch pals weren’t impressed.
It’s a fascinating read. I couldn’t put it down.
Interesting titbit: It’s so brilliantly written, I found it hard to believe he didn’t have a ghostwriter. I did eventually find an oblique reference Browder made to a “collaborator” so who knows how much he wrote himself?