By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Bill Browder
Narration by: Adam Grupper
If only a few of Bill Browder’s facts and accusations are true, the realpolitik of Vladimir Putin shocks the senses.
“Red Notice” reflects on the diplomacy of Russian power. In his book, Browder tells a story that implies Putin is a thug. Browder infers that Putin will lie, steal, and murder with the brutality of Joseph Stalin, cunning of Machiavelli, and tenacity of Genghis Kahn. Browder believes Putin uses his position as President to acquire wealth; as second only to his desire for power. Browder suggests Putin may be the wealthiest person in Russia.
Acquiring wealth is something Browder knows quite a lot about. William Browder is an investment fund partner/manager who ventured into Russia at the beginning of glasnost. Beginning in 1996, he and his investors assemble a capital investment fund worth billions of dollars in 2005. Browder began the fund with other people’s money and earned over two hundred million dollars per year for himself in 2006 and 2007. Browder earned that income by analyzing Russian assets and buying them at deeply undervalued prices as Russian business and industrial sectors transitioned from state to privately owned enterprises.
In 2005, Browder is deported. In 2006, Browder is black listed by the Russian government as a “threat to national security”. In March of 2013, the bank that serves as trustee and manager of Hermitage Capital Management announces it will cease funding operations in Russia. Browder gleefully points out in “Red Notice” that all of Hermitage Capital Management assets had been surreptitiously withdrawn in 2007. Browder is presently being sued in absentia by the Russian Government for tax evasion. Therein lays a tale of suspicious deaths, human greed, and conspiracy.
Browder assembles a great deal of evidence that suggests two people are murdered; murder’ accomplices are paid a great deal of money, and President Putin either sets the example for thuggish behavior or is complicit in a scheme that defrauds the Russian people.
The two alleged murders are Sergie Magnitsky and Alexander Perepilichny. Magnitsky dies in the custody of the Russian government. Perepilichny dies at the front door of his residence in the UK.
Magnitsky was a forensic accountant in Russia. He is identified as an attorney in Browder’s book but research suggests he is not licensed as an attorney in Russia. Magnitsky discovers a scheme by Russian government employees to recover taxes paid by Browder’s companies in Russia. The scheme is based on trumped-up charges that Browder’s companies paid taxes with illegally pilfered assets of Browder’s investment company. Documents in Browder’s possession show companies were transferred, without Browder’s knowledge or authorization, to shell company Russian owners. These owners are found to be two officers in the Russian secret police. The new owners suggest the companies they own were pilfered and that they should be reimbursed for taxes that were paid to the government because of Browder’s fraudulent transfer of worthless assets.
Magnitsky and two Russian lawyers present evidence to the Russian government about the fraud being perpetrated by the two Russian officers. The two Russian lawyers decide to flee their country when they believe they are going to be arrested. Magnitsky believes the facts speak for themselves; that he is safe, and the government will recognize and arrest the real criminals. Magnitsky is arrested, beaten, and dies in prison.
Alexander Perepilichny was a Russian business man who defected from Russia in 2009. Living in England in 2012, he contacts Browder to say he has evidence of how the Moscow tax office rebated taxes to the two government officials. Browder contacts the chief constable of Surrey in England to tell them of Perepilichny’s evidence. Browder accuses Russian officers of fraud, costing the Russian state $230 million dollars in improperly refunded tax dollars. Three government officials implicated in the fraud, Artem Kuznetsov, Pavel Karpov, and a tax collector, remain free.
Three videos of the alleged fraudsters are created as evidence of the Russian officers’ fraud. The evidence relies on their life style versus the income they receive from the Russian government. In Browder’s book, this evidence is overlaid with the prosecution of Russian oligarchs by Putin with the inference that those oligarchs that do not offer bribes are at risk of being jailed.
“Red Notice” is a powerful statement about one man’s view of Vladimir Putin. As noted at the beginning of this review, “if only a few of Bill Browder’s facts and accusations are true…” Putin’s reputation, if not his power and wealth, are diminished. At the same time, the ludicrously large capitalist windfall for Browder and his investors, at the expense of the Russian economy and two Russian’ deaths, does little for Browder’s reputation.
One can imagine Putin, recognized by many Russian citizens, as a patriot despite Browder’s considered analysis of Putin’s amoral drive for power and wealth. Many Americans have similar amoral instinctual drives but they are not presidents of nation-states struggling to re-establish themselves as superpowers.