For Putin, It’s All About the Money

As we watch the murderous carnage that Putin has unleashed in opposition to harmless Ukrainians, we’re all making an attempt to know Putin’s motivations. Some say he’s reacting to NATO growth, others contend that Putin can’t abide a Western-leaning Ukraine. Nonetheless others supply that Putin so laments the break-up of the Soviet Union that he needs to reassemble it.

From my perspective, it’s not resulting from any of those causes. It’s merely about cash. In contrast to most different governments, Russia’s just isn’t there to serve the folks, however to counterpoint senior officers by endemic corruption. The extra senior you’re, the richer you get. And essentially the most senior individual, Vladimir Putin, has develop into the richest. I estimate his wealth to be effectively north of $200 billion.

I’ve seen how Russian corruption works with my very own eyes. For a decade, between 1996 and 2005, I ran the most important international funding agency in Russia. My enterprise mannequin was easy: purchase deeply undervalued shares in Russian corporations, expose these corporations’ corruption, after which watch their share costs rise as the businesses have been pressured to scrub up. It labored like a attraction. Nevertheless, as you’ll be able to think about, the oligarchs and corrupt officers who have been doing the stealing weren’t too pleased with me. In November 2005, I used to be kicked overseas and declared a risk to Russian nationwide safety.

I moved to London and regrouped with my small crew. We additionally went about liquidating the fund’s Russian belongings. In 2006, our holding corporations reported a revenue of $1 billion, paying $230 million in taxes to the Russian Treasury. I used to be completed with Russia.

However Russia was not completed with me.

In 2007, my workplace in Moscow was raided by the Russian Inside Ministry. All of our paperwork have been seized, and these have been used to perpetrate a extremely complicated tax rebate fraud scheme to steal $230 million from the Russian Treasury that our funding holding corporations had beforehand paid.

My lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, found the crime, testified in opposition to the officers concerned, and in retaliation was arrested. He was held for 358 days, tortured, and killed on November 16, 2009 in Russian police custody. He was solely 37 years outdated. He left behind a spouse, a seven-year-old son, and a loving mom.

Since then, it has been my life’s mission to get justice for Sergei. Sadly, it was unimaginable to get justice in Russia. The Russian authorities promoted the individuals who had killed Sergei, giving them state honors. Three years after Sergei’s homicide, the Russian authorities put him on trial within the first-ever case in opposition to a lifeless man in Russian historical past.

This story is a microcosm of what occurs day-after-day in Russia. It’s good to multiply the crime that Sergei found by 1,000 to start to understand how a lot has been stolen by Putin and his cronies.

The issue for Putin is that this degree of corruption is unsustainable. Russia presents itself as a democracy to its folks. And people individuals are those disadvantaged of well being care, training, paved roads, and a good lifestyle in order that senior officers within the Putin regime can take pleasure in yachts, non-public jets, and villas within the South of France. It doesn’t matter what Russian propagandists peddle, ultimately folks will get offended. Putin regarded round and what he noticed frightened him. In Kazakhstan, one other corrupt dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was ousted earlier this 12 months in January. In Belarus, President Alexander Lukashenko was virtually ousted following the fraudulent 2019 election. It was solely due to Putin’s intervention that Lukashenko remains to be in energy.

So Putin dug into the dictator’s playbook and began a struggle. Now, as a substitute of the Russian folks being mad at him, they are often mad at “Nazified” Ukrainians, or the U.S., or NATO.

To date, he appears to be succeeding along with his approval rankings in Russia round 83 p.c.

It’s now plain that Putin is evil. This isn’t breathless hyperbole. It’s reality. He has no regard for human life, and solely lusts over energy and cash. In his calculus, cash is energy, and vice versa.

Amazingly, Putin himself has now been sanctioned by the West. However discovering the whereabouts of his cash is not any simple job. I’ve spent the final 14 years making an attempt to know the darkish cash flowing out of Russia. As soon as we discovered it, there was an enormous value to pay.


On April 3, 2016, the British newspaper the Guardian, printed an article titled, Revealed: the $2bn offshore path that results in Vladimir Putin. The creator was a part of a consortium of 370 journalists from 80 nations reporting on a knowledge leak referred to as The Panama Papers.

Central to the leak have been over 11 million paperwork held by the Panamanian regulation agency Mossack Fonseca. The information revealed monetary particulars of tons of of 1000’s of offshore corporations and accounts belonging to rich folks from all over the world.

The articles have been divided by nation, and every nation had a star. In Russia, that star was classical cellist named Sergei Roldugin.

Roldugin wasn’t only a cellist, but in addition Putin’s greatest pal going again to the Nineteen Seventies. Although Roldugin professed to drive a used automobile and play a secondhand cello, he managed corporations that had amassed billions of {dollars} of belongings since Putin took energy, successfully making him the richest musician on this planet.

A fast Google search reveals that the richest musicians are Jay-Z, Sir Paul McCartney, and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who’re every price round $1.25 billion. Yo-Yo Ma might be the world’s wealthiest cellist, and he’s price “solely” about $25 million.

How had Roldugin develop into so rich? The reply, for my part, is that this cellist was serving as a nominee for his longtime pal, Vladimir Putin.

Learn Extra: Ukraine Is Our Previous and Our Future

As anybody who follows Russia is aware of, Putin loves cash. However as a result of he’s president, he can solely earn his official wage (which is round $300,000 a 12 months), and he can’t maintain any belongings past these he amassed earlier than he was in authorities. If he did, anybody who obtained maintain of a replica of a financial institution assertion or a property registry along with his title on it may use it as leverage to blackmail him. Putin is effectively conscious of this, as a result of he’s used this tactic on many events in opposition to his personal enemies.

Due to this fact, Putin wanted others to carry his cash in order that no paper path led again to him. For this, he wanted folks he may belief. In any mafia-like group, these individuals are uncommon birds. There is no such thing as a commodity extra helpful than belief.

Roldugin was one such individual for Putin. From the second the 2 had met on the streets of Leningrad of their 20s, they have been like brothers. Roldugin launched Putin to his spouse; he was the godfather to Putin’s firstborn daughter; and thru the a long time that they had remained the closest of pals.

For us, this information was probably much more dramatic. If we may someway hyperlink any of the $230 million tax refund that Sergei Magnitsky had been killed over to Putin by Roldugin, it will be a game-changer.

Two days later, an obscure Lithuanian web site reported that one of many corporations linked to Roldugin had obtained $800,000 from an account at a Lithuanian financial institution. This account belonged to a shell firm known as Delco Networks.

We searched our cash laundering database and located that this $800,000 was related to the $230 million tax refund. After leaving Russia, the cash had handed by a collection of banks in Moldova, Estonia, and, finally, Lithuania.

We may now hyperlink the crime that Sergei Magnitsky had uncovered and been killed over to Roldugin. And from Roldugin, we may hyperlink it to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

This defined the whole lot.

When Sergei was killed, Putin may have had the perpetrators of the tax rebate fraud prosecuted, however he didn’t. When the worldwide neighborhood demanded justice for Sergei, Putin exonerated everybody concerned. When the Magnitsky Act handed in in the US, freezing all belongings of these implicated in Sergei’s homicide, Putin retaliated by banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American households. Earlier than the regulation handed, Putin’s authorities had even organized for Dmitry Klyuev, a convicted mobster, alongside along with his consigliere, Andrei Pavlov, each non-public residents, to attend the OSCE Parliamentary Meeting in Monaco to foyer in opposition to the Magnitsky Act, as in the event that they have been some type of particular authorities envoys.

Why had Putin gone to such lengths to guard a bunch of crooked officers and arranged criminals?

As a result of, fairly merely, he was defending himself.

Out of $230 million, $800,000 is a pittance. However sums like these add up. It’s like charging $5 for a toll. For one automobile, it’s nothing, however after 1,000,000 automobiles, you’ve collected a fortune.

Mossack Fonseca was merely one in all tons of of offshore belief corporations. If these different corporations’ books have been equally uncovered, I used to be positive we might discover different trustees of Vladimir Putin who had obtained different tranches of the $230 million. And this was only one crime amongst 1000’s and 1000’s of crimes that had taken place in Russia since Putin took energy.

We have been trying on the tip of an unlimited iceberg.

The Magnitsky Act says that Russian human rights violators can have their belongings frozen within the West. It additionally says that beneficiaries of the $230 million crime shall be sanctioned. That Putin was a human rights violator was not in dispute, however now he ticked each bins.

The Magnitsky Act put all of his wealth and energy in danger. That made him a really offended man. His campaign in opposition to the Magnitsky Act wasn’t simply philosophical, it was private.

We had genuinely hit Vladimir Putin’s Achilles’ heel.

At 8:00 a.m. on Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump and Putin have been within the midst of their summit in Helsinki, Finland. I used to be in Aspen with my household. I arrange my laptop computer on the finish of the eating room desk, a view of the mountains to the west over my shoulder.

I wanted to get some work completed, and I didn’t need any distractions. My children normally run riot everywhere in the home, however that day I put the eating room off-limits. I additionally put restraints on myself, laying down my cellphone. After two hours of labor, I turned over my cellphone. The display screen was flush with notifications. I had dozens of messages—texts, emails, DMs, voicemails, the whole lot.

I opened the primary e-mail. “Invoice, are you watching Helsinki??”

I scrolled by my inbox. “That was the scariest, most fucked-up factor I’ve ever seen,” one pal stated. One other wrote, “In the event you want a spot to cover, we’ll put you in our mountain home!”

What the hell was occurring? I discovered the earliest e-mail about Helsinki, from the correspondent Ali Velshi at MSNBC. The topic was to the purpose: “Putin speaking about you now.”


I put down my cellphone and went on-line. It didn’t take lengthy to search out the post-summit press convention. The 2 leaders have been onstage at twin lecterns, and their physique language couldn’t have been extra completely different. Putin regarded like he owned the place, whereas Trump glowered and slumped his shoulders, trying something however presidential.

The stunning second got here when a Reuters reporter requested: President Putin, “will you think about extraditing the twelve Russian officers that have been indicted final week by a U.S. grand jury?” Robert Mueller, the particular counsel who had been answerable for investigating Russian involvement within the 2016 presidential election, in addition to attainable Russian hyperlinks to the Trump marketing campaign, had made an sudden announcement the week earlier than. His workplace was indicting 12 Russian GRU officers (the GRU is Russia’s army intelligence wing), accusing them of hacking the Democratic Nationwide Committee and interfering within the election to assist Trump win.

Putin smiled and nodded confidently, trying like he’d spent the entire weekend making ready for this second. “We will meet you midway … We will really allow representatives of the US, together with this very fee headed by Mr. Mueller. We will allow them to into the nation. They are often current at questioning. On this case there’s one other situation. This type of effort needs to be a mutual one. We might anticipate that the People would reciprocate… As an example, we are able to convey up Mr. Browder on this explicit case.”

Learn Extra: The Man Putin Fears

I needed to watch it a number of instances to make it possible for I’d heard it accurately. Someway, Putin, standing subsequent to the President of the US, was suggesting swapping 12 Russian GRU officers—for me!

I waited for Trump’s response. Certainly, he would reject this out of hand.

However he didn’t. “I feel that’s an unimaginable supply,” he stated, suggesting he was able to commerce me.

Rationally, I understood the gravity of the state of affairs, however emotionally I used to be too shaken to take it in. It was like being in a severe automobile accident. I knew I’d simply been injured, however I had no concept how badly.

As I attempted to evaluate the harm, the principle factor I saved coming again to was whether or not it was protected for me to remain in America. My unique, nebulous concern that some Russian murderer may attempt to kill me had now been overtaken by the very actual worry that the President of the US would hand me over to the Russians.

My first inclination was to get the hell out of America. However my spouse, Elena, calmed me down and satisfied me to remain. “Proper now,” she stated, “the world needs to know: who’s Invoice Browder?”

She was proper. I spent the remainder of that day on TV, explaining the Magnitsky Act to anybody who’d pay attention. My essential message? Putin is evil, and this concept of his was nothing greater than a take a look at for the West. Would the West move? Solely time would inform.


The following morning, at 6:30 a.m., my spouse Elena jolted me awake, waving a bit of paper in my face. “You’ve obtained to see this, honey!”

Elena is initially from Russia, and he or she’d gotten up earlier than dawn to learn the Russian information. That morning, the Russian Basic Prosecutor’s Workplace had issued a listing of 11 extra folks the Russians wished the US handy over in change for the 12 GRU officers. Russians love symmetry in these issues. America wished 12, which meant Russia wished 12.

I propped myself up and took the paper. The Russians wished Mike McFaul, the previous US ambassador to Russia; my pal Kyle Parker, the Congressional staffer who initially drafted the Magnitsky Act; three Particular Brokers from the Division of Homeland Safety who had been concerned in investigating a Russian cash laundering scheme involving a Cyprus-registered firm named Prevezon that had obtained a few of the $230 million; Jonathan Winer, the Washington lawyer and former State Division official who had provide you with the unique concept for the Magnitsky Act; and David Kramer, one other ex–State Division official and the previous head of the human rights NGO Freedom Home, who’d advocated for the Magnitsky Act alongside Boris Nemtsov and me. There have been 4 extra names on the listing, however the principle frequent denominators have been both involvement within the Magnitsky Act or participation within the Prevezon case.

What have been the Russians accusing us of? The day earlier than, Putin alleged that my “enterprise associates” and I had “earned over $1.5 billion in Russia,” “by no means paid any taxes,” after which, to get Trump’s consideration, gave “$400 million as a contribution to the marketing campaign of Hillary Clinton.” (The precise quantity was zero.) Putin went on to say, “We now have stable motive to imagine that some intelligence officers guided these transactions.” Putin was accusing Ambassador McFaul, Kyle Parker, the three DHS brokers, and everybody else on the listing of being a part of my “felony enterprise.”

This was traditional Russian projection. We weren’t the victims, they have been. They weren’t the criminals, we have been. As a substitute of the Dmitri Klyuev Organized Crime Group working with corrupt Russian officers to launder huge sums of cash, it was the Invoice Browder Organized Crime Group working with corrupt American officers to launder huge sums of cash.

Elena and I checked out one another and smiled. As soon as once more, Putin had approach overplayed his hand.

It was one factor to go after a non-public individual like me, who wasn’t even an American citizen. That may have been distasteful, however within the remaining evaluation how many individuals cared about me? It was solely completely different to ask for a former U.S. ambassador, a congressional staffer, and rank-and-file DHS brokers. If Trump obliged Putin, it will set a disastrous precedent.

The day after that, at a White Home press convention, Maggie Haberman from the New York Instances requested Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Russian authorities yesterday named a number of People they wish to query that they declare are concerned in Invoice Browder’s quote-unquote ‘crimes,’ of their phrases, together with the previous ambassador to Russia, Mike McFaul. Does President Trump assist that concept? Is he open to having US officers questioned by Russia?”

This was the second all of Washington had been ready for.

Huckabee Sanders didn’t waver. “The president goes to satisfy along with his crew and we’ll let you realize when we’ve got an announcement on that.” She added that Trump “stated it was an fascinating concept. He needs to work along with his crew and decide if there may be any validity that will be useful to the method.”

What the fuck? They have been nonetheless fascinated with this?!

I felt like the ground had fallen out from below me—once more. Each affordable individual in Trump’s orbit should have been telling him this was madness, but he was nonetheless mulling it over.

Fortunately, everybody else in Washington appeared to agree with me.

The tidal wave of indignation was towering, and the Senate shortly organized a vote on a decision calling on Trump by no means to observe by on Putin’s “unimaginable supply.”

The administration may sense this wave was about to come back crashing down on them. An hour earlier than the vote, the White Home lastly backtracked. Huckabee Sanders introduced, “It’s a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, however President Trump disagrees with it.”

This was hardly the strong rejection Washington anticipated. It appeared like Trump was apologizing to Putin, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Hey, buddy, I attempted, however they received’t let me.”

That afternoon, the Senate voted on the decision. It handed 98–0.

Nobody could be handed over to the Russians.

Tailored from Browder’s new e-book, Freezing Order: A True Story of Cash Laundering, Homicide, and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath, printed by Simon & Schuster.

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