As a financier working in Russia from the 1990s, American-born Bill Browder quickly learned that theft was commonplace among oligarchs profiting from the privatization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. While investigating a $230 million tax fraud perpetrated against his company, Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was imprisoned, tortured and killed by Russian authorities.
In response, Browder advocated passage of the Magnitsky Act, aimed at freezing the assets of those implicated in human rights abuses. The Magnitsky Act extended beyond the United States to other countries around the world – and made Browder a target of the Kremlin.
Browder followed his New York Times bestseller “Red Notice” with a new book, “Blocking Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath” (both published by Simon & Schuster, a division of Paramount).
Read an excerpt from “Block Order” below, and don’t miss correspondent Seth Doane’s interview with Bill Browder on “CBS Sunday Morning” April 10!
When we started investigating the $230 million tax evasion that my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was killed for, we had no idea it would lead to one of those world-shaping developments or those unthinkable Russian reactions. Why didn’t Putin just throw a few of his junior officials under the bus for Sergei’s murder? Why would he judge a dead man for the first time in Russian history? Why would he ruin his relationship with the West because of the Magnitsky Act? Why would he hack Western elections? Why is he so determined to foment chaos?
Now we knew. It wasn’t just millions of dollars at stake. Or even billions. There was probably over a trillion dollars at stake. And Putin will do anything to protect that.
This amount of money also helped explain why so many people had been murdered. People like Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Alexander Perepilichnyy and Andrei Kozlov. It also explained why the Kremlin tried to kill Vladimir Kara-Murza and Nikolai Gorokhov.
As despicable as the behavior of Putin and his regime may be, none of this can happen without the cooperation of Western enablers. Lawyers like John Moscow and Mark Cymrot, spin-docs like Glenn Simpson, politicians like Dana Rohrabacher, and executives like those at Danske Bank – these people, along with many others, lubricate the machine that allows Putin and his acolytes to get away with their crimes. .
Nor can these crimes occur without the acquiescence of timid and ineffective governments that refuse to follow their own laws and declared values. Let’s take Britain, just as an example. The largest sum of money associated with the crime of $230 million did not end up in New York, Spain, France or Switzerland, but in my adopted hometown: London. This money was used to buy real estate and luxury goods, and despite all the evidence I have presented to UK law enforcement, Parliament and the UK press, to date no money laundering investigation of money linked to the Magnitsky affair has been opened. UK.
As you follow me through this story, you may have wondered, “The odds are so long and there are so many risks…Why is he doing all these things?
At first I made them because I owed it to Sergei. He had been killed because he worked for me, and I couldn’t let his killers get away with it. As with the theft of the flute of my childhood, but on an infinitely larger and more meaningful scale, I was compelled to obtain justice. As the theft of my flute showed, this penchant for justice is part of who I am. It’s in my nature. Rejecting it would have poisoned me from within.
Then, as things escalated, it also became a fight for survival. Not just for me and my family, but for my friends and colleagues, and for all the people who helped Sergei’s cause inside Russia.
But in the end, I did those things because doing them is the right thing to do. For better or for worse, I have been obsessed with this cause since the moment of Sergei’s death. This obsession has affected all facets of my life and all my relationships, even those with my own children. These effects have not always been for the best.
But this obsession also introduced me to remarkable people who not only changed my life, but also the course of history.
More importantly, my obsession created a legacy for Sergei so his murder wasn’t meaningless like so many others.
At the time of writing, there are Magnitsky Acts in 34 different countries: the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, 27 European Union countries, Norway, Montenegro and Kosovo. This does not take into account the British Overseas Territories and Crown Protectorates of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. New Zealand and Japan are on the bridge.
More than 500 individuals and entities have been sanctioned under these laws. In Russia, these include Dmitry Klyuev, Andrei Pavlov, Pavel Karpov, Artem Kuznetsov and Olga Stepanova and her husband, as well as 35 other Russians implicated in the false arrest, torture and murder of Sergei as well as the $230 million tax evasion.
But not only the Russians. Magnitsky’s sanctions have now been applied to the Saudi assassins responsible for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the Chinese officials who set up the Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang; the Burmese generals responsible for the Rohingya genocide; the Gupta brothers, who stripped the South African government to the bone; and hundreds of others for equally pernicious acts.
For every person or organization that has been sanctioned, there are thousands of human rights violators and kleptocrats waiting in terror to see if they will be sanctioned next. There is no doubt that the Magnitsky Act changed behavior and served as a deterrent to would-be murderers and thieves.
I can’t bring Sergei back. And for that, I carry a heavy burden that will never go away. But his sacrifice was not in vain. He has saved and will continue to save many, many lives.
If ever Russia has a real democratic calculus, future Russians will develop these legal monuments by building physical monuments to a real hero: Sergei Magnitsky.
For now, however, the fight continues.
Excerpt from “Freeze Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath” by Bill Browder. Copyright © 2022 by Bill Browder. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
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