Bill Browder, head of the Magnitsky Global Justice Campaign, explains how US sanctions on Russia hurt Putin’s wealthy allies. Browder will be speaking at PutinCon in New York City on Friday, March 16. Following is a transcript of the video.
Bill Browder: I’m a guy who went to Russia to run an investment fund, I discovered corruption, I exposed it, and I fell out with the regime.
Business Insider: So we have a lot to talk about. Over the last few days we’ve seen some incredible, incredible news from Russia and the UK, all around the United States, about violence at the hands of Putin’s regime which you’ve experienced. In the UK, a former Soviet spy and his daughter were attacked using a nerve gas that we haven’t seen since World War II. We have a ally of Boris Berezovsky mysteriously killed. And now we have new sanctions against the Russian government from the United States, UK, France. Give us your take on this, what should we expect to see and what does this mean that is going through Putin’s head, and what is happening in Russia right now?
Browder: First of all, let’s put something in perspective. Russia is at the headlines of almost every different issue. This is a country with an economy the size of New York state so this is not because they’re an economic superpower that they’re doing all this kind of stuff, this is because Vladimir Putin is effectively the biggest criminal in the world. He’s a Mafia boss and he’s going around doing Mafia techniques in international relations and he’s gotten everybody’s attention. And part of the reason he’s doing this is that he needs to distract everybody in Russia from the problems that are going on in Russia. And so he’s just poking at every different thing and creating all this crisis and controversy.
BI: You spearheaded the Magnitsky Act which some Russians, I think, blame for part of their economic situation. Can you explain what you’ve done, how you did it, and why?
Browder: So first of all, who am I? I’m a guy who went to Russia to run an investment fund, I discovered corruption, I exposed it, and I fell out with the regime and in retaliation they kicked me out of the country, they raided my offices, they seized my investment holding companies and used them to steal 230 million dollars in taxes that I paid to the Russian government. A young lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky discovered the crime, exposed it and he was subsequently arrested, tortured for 358 days, and killed at the age of 37 on November 16, 2009.
Since then, I’ve been on a mission to get justice for Sergei and that’s led to a piece of legislation here in the United States called the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of people who killed Sergei and people who do similar types of things. The Magnitsky Act is now in seven countries around the world and Putin hates it with all of his heart. Why does he hate it? Because Putin has stolen an enormous amount of money and he’s killed a lot of people in the process. And he understands, rightfully so, that the money that he’s stolen which he keeps in Western banks could be seized under the Magnitsky Act. And so as a result, he’s made it his single largest foreign policy priority to repeal the Magnitsky Act. He stated that publicly.
BI: So why do Putin’s cronies hate Magnitsky so much?
Browder: So normally when you go into government, in a regular country, you go in to serve the country and serve the people of the country. In Russia, people go into government to effectively become sub capos or Mafia bosses of different areas of the economy, and they steal an enormous amount of money. And every different government official is spectacularly rich but as much as they steal that money in Russia they don’t feel comfortable keeping it in Russia. They want to keep it in the West. And because they keep it in the West, all that money is exposed and then the whole purpose of going into government, where they have spent all this time and energy stealing money and terrorizing people, is all for naught, all that hard work is for naught if that money gets frozen. And so for them… And I should point out that these people value money over human life and therefore, it’s so crucial to them that their money is safe and if their money’s not safe then they feel very angry. And they’re particularly angry at the guy who created the Magnitsky Act to make their money unsafe, which is me.