#31 – The Justice Warrior

Bill Browder is a former hedge fund manager turned human rights activist.

SUMMARY

Bill Browder is a human rights activist who championed the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Obama. It not only sanctions Russians, but others around the world. Similar legislation is now in place in over 30 countries. He is also a bestselling author and former hedge fund manager.

GETTING INTO INVESTING

Bill’s grandfather was a leader of the Communist Party in the US and his family were left-wing academics – Bill rebelled by becoming a capitalist. He jokes that his grandfather was a leading communist in a capitalist society and he set out to become a leading capitalist in a communist society. He joined Boston Consulting Group in London then went on to invest in Eastern Europe for Robert Maxwell. When Maxwell’s empire crumbled he found a space at investment bank Salomon where he soon became involved in investing prop desk money in Russian privatisations before deciding to work for himself, setting up Hermitage Capital, It became the leading investor in Russia.

Some takeaways

Both of Bill’s books tell his story brilliantly and much better than I can summarise here. You can read more below or read Jamie Susskind’s review of Freezing Order.

Bill’s experience with his fund is quite astonishing. He explains how it fell 90% during the fallout from the Asian crisis when Russia defaulted on its debt and the stockmarket collapsed. Bill was confident in his investments because they mainly sold resources, priced in dollars, while their costs were largely Rouble, and its 75% depreciation meant that profits would explode upwards.

But he explains that the oligarchs until then had been obliged to behave to maintain access to capital markets. When that access was withdrawn, many resorted to theft, and that was the trigger for Bill and his team to research these frauds and publicise them. An early result was that Gazprom management were replaced and Bill had a 100-bagger! And these returns were generated in a  relatively short period.

ABOUT Bill Browder

Bill Browder is the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management. The Hermitage Fund was at one point the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia. Browder started with $25 million in seed capital from Edmond Safra and AUM grew to $4.5bn. From 1996 to 2000, it returned 15x and in 1997, the Hermitage Fund was the best-performing fund in the world, up by 238%.

 

Browder was early into the Russian privatisation party which proved a bonanza and he later switched tack to activism. He exposed theft by oligarchs from Russia’s public companies and Putin stood by, as he wanted the oligarchs’ wings clipped. Eventually, Putin made peace with the oligarchs and Browder became persona non grata, being refused entry to Russia and deported to the UK In November, 2005.

Eighteen months later, Russia’s Interior Ministry raided Hermitage Capital’s offices in Moscow and the Moscow office of Browder’s American law firm, Firestone Duncan, seizing the corporate registration documents for Hermitage’s investment holding companies. Browder assigned Sergei Magnitsky to investigate the purpose of the raid. Magnitsky discovered that those documents had been used fraudulently to re-register Hermitage’s holding companies. Magnitsky was subsequently arrested by Russian authorities and died in prison, having been denied proper medical treatment and tortured.

After Magnitsky’s death, Browder lobbied for Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, a law to punish Russian human rights violators, which was signed into law in 2012 by President Obama. In 2014, the European Parliament voted for sanctions against 30 Russians believed complicit in the Magnitsky case; this was the first time it had taken such action. In 2017, the Russian government put Browder on Interpol’s arrest list although it was subsequently rejected by Interpol.

Browder was born in Princeton and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He is the son of a mathematician who went to MIT age 16 and had a PhD from Princeton by the time he was 20. He is the grandson of communist Party head, Earl Browder, who twice ran for President. He was expelled from school and later attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, before transferring to the University of Chicago, from which he graduated with a degree in economics. He has an MBA from Stanford. 

Browder started his career at Boston Consulting Group in London, then worked for Robert Maxwell’s Maxwell Communication Corporation, and after that managed the Russian proprietary investments desk at Salomon Brothers, before setting up Hermitage Capital.

Browder no longer manages money, having devoted his life to honouring the memory of Magnitsky as a full-time political activist.

You can find Bill on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Billbrowder

THE MAGNITSKY AWARDS AND JUSTICE FOUNDATION

Browder started The Magnitsky Awards in 2015 to recognise brave journalists, politicians and activists in the field of human rights. In the past individuals such as Boris Nemtsov, Senator John McCain, Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Oleg Sentsov, Gulchehra Hoja and Geoffrey Robertson have been recipients.

The Awards Dinner is held in London each November to commemorate Sergei Magnitsky’s legacy and is attended by journalists, politicians, NGOs and civil society. The ceremony additionally affords recipients the opportunity to highlight horrible injustices taking place globally.

Browder has also set up a charitable foundation in Sergei Magnitsky’s name. You can read more about his story here.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Bill Browder has written two books.

Red Notice tells the tale of the growth of Hermitage, its subsequent fall from favour and the battle with the Russian authorities which resulted in Magnitsky’s tragic death.

Freezing Order continues the story as Russia continues to retaliate and uncovers the trail of how crooked cops stole money using Hermitage as a vehicle.

HOW STEVE KNOWS THE GUEST

Steve doorstepped Bill when he was speaking at a conference and emailed him inviting hin on the podcast. In a subsequent mail, Steve mentioned that he donated the advance by his Russian publisher to a fundraising for ambulances for Ukraine, and perhaps that did the trick, as Bill agreed to come on the show.

Chapters

00:02    Bill’s journey

08:51    Becoming an investor in Russia

16:48    Investing in Russia’s chaos

25:05    Struggling against the oligarchs

33:19    Fighting for justice

 

Transcript

 

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Hi, welcome to the Behind the balance Sheet podcast where we meet leading investors and commentators and educate ourselves about the world of investing and the world.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Our mission is to remove some of the mystique around investing and improve our understanding of what makes a successful investment or indeed an unsuccessful one. Our goal is to inform, educate and entertain. We hope you enjoy this and every episode.

Behind the balance sheet and affiliates and podcast guests may own shares or have an economic interest in securities discussed in this podcast which is aired for your education and entertainment. Only nothing in this podcast should be construed as investment advice or relied upon for investment decisions. Always do your own research.

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STEPHEN CLAPHAM: This month in the show is one of my heroes, Bill Browder has dedicated his life to the memory of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky killed in a Russian prison. This is a noble endeavor and one taken at considerable personal risk. I wouldn’t have been that brave Bill jokes that he was the dunce of his family, but his achievements are amazing. One year his was the best performing hedge fund in the world.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: He’s written not one but two best selling books and he’s been the driving force behind legislation in over 30 countries to sanction thugs and crooks.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: In this episode, we talk about his career about how he coped with a 90% 9 0% fall in the value of his fund, about how he subsequently engineered a 37 times recovery for the portfolio about his deportation from Russia and how he subsequently secretly cashed in the gains and returned that cash to investors. And of course, we talk about the events that led up to the tragic death of his lawyer and friend Sergei Magnitsky.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: If you haven’t read Bill’s two books, read Notice and Freezing Order. They are brilliant and they tell this story in much greater detail, but this discussion is wonderful. I so enjoyed having a chance to hear this almost unbelievable tale.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: At first hand, this is Bill’s story and the views expressed to your bills. And if you’re not familiar with that story, I warn you, it’s shocking you’re going to enjoy and be enthralled at this discussion.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Bill. Thank you so much for coming on. I’m really excited. I always say that I’m really excited. But this time I’m really, really excited to speak to you because I’ve really so enjoyed your two books. You’re very unusual because you’ve had incredible success in three different careers as an investor, a best selling author and now as a human rights activist.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And you also have a very unusual background. Your grandfather ran for president twice in a Communist ticket. Your mother was from a very poor background and your father was a mathematician who went to MIT age 16 and a phd from Princeton by the time he was 20. And your brother is one of the world’s top particle physicists, which was quite an amazing background.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I was very curious about what gave you the fortitude to embrace this campaign and to go up against Putin. And in freezing order, you tell us the story of the loss of your flute as a kid. And I thought that gave some insight into why you do this. You would you like to just tell that story.

BILL BROWDER: Well, let me just back up for a second. So I was the dumb one in my family. We, we had all these child prodigies. My father, I actually have two uncles who are also mathematicians. My brother, as you mentioned is a top particle physicist.

BILL BROWDER: And so, and perhaps it was really fortuitous that I was not the genius of all these other people because that, that’s led me that, that sent me in a, in a different direction than everybody else in my family, but to come to the flute. So my uncle Bill, he played the flute and when I was very little like, I don’t know, eight or nine, he gave me one of his old flutes, which is a Sterling silver flute.

BILL BROWDER: And it was really nice. It was, I mean, I don’t know how valuable it was, seemed really valuable to me because I’m made of silver. And so I dutifully took up the flute and I was really not a great musician.

BILL BROWDER: And so I was the last flutist in the school orchestra, but I, I kind of kept at it and, and I lived in the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park near the University Of Chicago, which at the time was and, and actually still is surrounded by three ghettos in the lake. And basically at the time, if you crossed over 47Th Street, you would die.

BILL BROWDER: Li literally, I mean, it’s like, it’s like, it’s like the, you know, the Demilitarized Zone or whatever you crossed over 63rd Street, you would die. You crossed over cottage grove on the, on the West, you would die. And then the, then the other side was a lake.

BILL BROWDER: But the, the, the way that the university kept everybody safe was by having more police, university police per capita than any neighborhood or any community in the United States. And on every, every other street corner there was a white phone. And if you got into trouble, if anyone was causing trouble, you go to the phone, pick up the phone and within 30 seconds a university police car was there.

BILL BROWDER: And so my parents felt comfortable letting me be a kid in the neighborhood and, and I walked to school on my own and I walked to school with my flute to play in the orchestra. And one day as I was walking, these three boys who were older than me, maybe 15 approached me and one of them said, I wanna see what you got.

BILL BROWDER: And I said, no one of them grabbed, grabbed my flute, one of them grabbed me. And so like I was struggling with them and they grabbed the flute and the three of them ran off and I was very shaken.

BILL BROWDER: I ran of course to the nearest white police phone picked up the phone and within 30 seconds, the university police were there and would then probably another five minutes later, the, the Chicago Police were there. The Chicago Police took me home to my mother and, and we’re standing there ringing in the doorbell and, and my mother opens the door and, and she sees me with these two policemen what’s going on.

BILL BROWDER: And, one of them said, you know, your son has been a victim of a crime. Can we come in and, and take a statement? And, she was all flustered and, and, so kind of didn’t, didn’t really wanna get involved and, and, I said, no, no, I really wanna give my statement.

BILL BROWDER: And so they came in and we sat down and, and I went through the whole thing, I described each of the individuals who had taken the flute and, and my mother said to me, very sort of pessimistically and cynically and that’s the last we’ll ever hear of the Chicago Police.

BILL BROWDER: Well, it wasn’t three weeks later we get a call and they say, we think we’ve apprehended the individuals who stole your son’s flute. We’d like to you, you and your son to come to the police station to do a line up where they would put them behind glass and then I’d have to choose between them and somebody else.

BILL BROWDER: My mother said, I, I don’t think so and I said, no, no, I absolutely wanna go. I, this is really important and, and she, and I struggled and, and I was like, really determined. I thought, you know, I’m not gonna let these guys get away with it. So, I overcame her hesitancy because she really didn’t want trouble with any bad guys stealing flutes or anything like that.

BILL BROWDER: So we drive down to the you know, the, the station where they, where they, where they had all this stuff and they put me into the room with the, the a bunch of young individuals, including the people who, so the flute and I spotted them immediately, they were some of the two of them I think were wearing the same clothes that they were wearing. The three weeks before I point them out.

BILL BROWDER: Police then take some notes and then we sit there for a little while and they come back and say to my mother, we’d like your son to testify in court. And again, she like said, she wanted nothing to do this. She didn’t want any trouble with any bad guys who were doing crimes and so on and so forth. But I was just absolutely determined that, that, that these guys weren’t going to get away with it.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: So you’ve always been a campaigner for justice then?

BILL BROWDER: Well, I mean, this is, this is where it all, it all, it all, it all started in, in the end, we went to court and I testified against them. They were found guilty and then they were let off.

BILL BROWDER: So but it, it really, this did plant the seed, maybe, I don’t know if I was before that, but this planted the seed and from then on I was like, you know, my goal was to become a, a policeman. I joined the Chicago Junior police patrol and all sorts of other stuff. And that eventually faded away. I became a, a hedge fund manager.

BILL BROWDER: But deep down in my core, the idea of people stealing from you and getting away with it really sort of, you know, viscerally rubbed me the wrong way and, and that ended up defining how I ended up as a, as the one of the largest foreign investor in Russia. And of course, everybody was stealing from me. What was the.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Attraction of Russia? What, why did you end up there?

BILL BROWDER: Well, you mentioned, my grandfather, the Communist. So he was my grandfather, Earl Browder was the General Secretary of the American Communist Party for 13 years, ran for president twice against Roosevelt, was expelled from the Communist Party, for being too much of a capitalist.

BILL BROWDER: And then of course persecuted during the mccarthy era for his, for being a Communist. And, and so this was my family legacy. And, and I was born in 1964 and when I was going through my teenage rebellion in the 19 seventies, I was trying to figure out how I could rebel from this family of Communists.

BILL BROWDER: And I came up with this great idea which was to put on a suit and tie and become a capitalist and everybody in my family thought I was just like parents, my cousins, my uncles, everybody thought that like, this guy is just like, really because they were academic, they were all, they were all left wing academics coming from this Communist background.

BILL BROWDER: And it was just like the biggest, you know, insult to, to everybody in the family, which I really enjoyed and, and, and I, I became a capitalist and I, and I was really good at it.

BILL BROWDER: And I went to Stanford Business School and I graduated Stanford Business School in 1989 which was the year that the Berlin Wall came down. And as I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I had this epiphany, which is that my grandfather was the biggest Communist in America. And the Berlin Wall has just come down.

BILL BROWDER: I’m gonna become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe. And that’s what I set out to do. And I moved to London had several jobs. But the job that defined my life was working at Solomon brothers as an investment banker on their East European investment banking team.

BILL BROWDER: And my first assignment was to advise a fishing fleet in Murmansk on their privatization. Murmansk is a city the fur the furthest north population center in the world flew up to me misk to advise his fishing fleet and the head of the fleet took me down to their, to the docks to see one of their boats, a huge vessel. 400 ft long.

BILL BROWDER: There were the nets on the top and the all sorts of things going on in the middle of the ship and the canning, they, they were doing canning and the, at the lowest level of the ship is like an ocean going factory. Amazing. I said, how much one of these things cost $20 million? New. How many did you have in your fleet? 100 20 million times, 100 is 2 billion.

BILL BROWDER: What’s the age of your fleet? Seven years? I, I don’t know much about ships or fishing, but I figured that makes it have depreciated. So a billion dollars for the ships. And I’ve been hired to advise the management on whether or not to exercise their legitimate right under the privatization program of Russia, to purchase 51%.

BILL BROWDER: And I asked, what price is the government selling? 51%? He said $2.5 million. It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? It’s unbelievable. And I thought to myself, what am I doing? Advising on this stuff? I, I need to be investing in this stuff instead of coming back to London. I went to Moscow and, and and I didn’t speak a word of Russian and I, I didn’t know a single Russian other than the head of the fishing fleet.

BILL BROWDER: And I, but an English language yellow page directory and I had about 40 meetings over the course of the next week. And the purpose was to figure out whether this was some anomaly in the fishing industry or whether this was something more widespread.

BILL BROWDER: And I learned about the, what they call the voucher privatization program in Russia and what they had done, they made this fundamental decision that in order to go from communism to capitalism, they wanted to create a, a country full of capitalists. How are they gonna do that? Well, the state owned all the property and so they’re gonna give all the state property away effectively for free.

BILL BROWDER: And one of the ways they chose to do that was to do something called voucher privatization. And what voucher privatization was was they would give a physical certificate called the voucher to each person in the country. 100 and 50 million people in the country, they gave 100 and 50 million vouchers out and the vouchers were bearer instruments.

BILL BROWDER: It was like cash, you could, you could sell it, you could buy it, you could give it, you could to tear it up, you could do anything you want with it. And there was no restrictions on who could own them. Foreigners could own them, locals could own them and they started trading on a secondary market. And so the vouchers traded for about $20 each.

BILL BROWDER: So, if you did the math $20 per voucher times 100 and 50 million gets you $3 billion of the vouchers and those $3 billion were, the vouchers were exchangeable for 30% of the share capital of every single Russian company, which meant that the market cap of Russia was $10 billion. And this is a country with 35% of the world’s natural gas.

BILL BROWDER: 10% of the world’s oil, 10% of the world’s steel. 10% of the world’s aluminum, there’s fertilizer, telephone companies, car companies, banks, timber, e everything all put together. The total value was $10 billion. I mean, you couldn’t buy a mid size oil company in Oklahoma for $10 billion. You could buy the whole country of Russia for $10 billion.

BILL BROWDER: And that’s when I decided to quit Solomon brothers and set up my own investment fund to invest in these privatizations. And I moved to Moscow, set up a fund called the Hermitage Fund. I raised $25 million from a famous investor named Edmund Safra, who was the owner of Republic National Bank Of New York and got to work buying up vouchers, buying, buying into these companies.

BILL BROWDER: And it was the most successful launch of a of a hedge fund in the history of hedge funds. We went up 865% in the 1st 18 months. They went from $25 million of assets under management to more than a billion. And this is back in the days and, and a billion in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: Remember this is a country, it’s a 10 billion market cap, but by that time it would be 100 billion, whatever. But, but, but the point, the point is that, I mean, it was, I was like, you know, you know, I was like bigger than, you know, I was to the Russian market, bigger than fidelity is to the US market. You know, it’s extraordinary.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Why do you think other people didn’t spot this? I mean, it must have been very obvious to people in, I mean, the Russians are really smart, right? So why did they not figure this out and think that it was a daft way of doing it well.

BILL BROWDER: So certain Russians, did you remember these people called the Russian oligarchs and 22 of them figured it right out. You know, 50 times more than I did. I mean that these guys were, you know, buying majority shares of these oil companies and stuff like that.

BILL BROWDER: But the interesting thing was the people in the West, people are very slow to like catch on and it wasn’t like there was lack of information. I I probably went out and pitched every single major investor in the world on, on investing with me in Russia and 90 you know, 96% of them said no.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And who did you, did you mentioned in the book you met Soros and Julian Robertson and a lot of these people ended up giving me money.

BILL BROWDER: But a lot of people didn’t end up giving me money. And the reason people didn’t give me money was because everyone had been educated in a world where Russia was the enemy. It was the cold, you know, for, you know, for 50 years it was the Cold War and the, and all this nastiness because you.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Make it sound very obvious and almost easy. But I Flemings I worked for at this time and Flemings were quite big in Russia. And I remember, I don’t know exactly what year it was. But in the mid nineties, some guys walked into the, the, their office in Moscow and told them they were moving and they said, no, no, we’re not moving. They said, no, you are moving and it was like the wild West then, wasn’t it?

BILL BROWDER: I mean, well, I mean, and, and that’s of course, one of the many reasons why people didn’t want to invest there because you know that you could lose your money very easily. But here’s, here’s the thing and this is something that, that most people don’t do it as investors, which is yes, I mean, so there was real, there was real financial catastrophe, risk investing in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: And so most people said, I don’t want to have anything to do with it the way I looked at it from an investment standpoint. I said, ok, there’s probably a 50% chance you’re gonna lose everything you put into this market, that’s a big number.

BILL BROWDER: But if you’re buying at a 99.7% discount and you don’t, and they don’t take all that, you don’t lose your money, you could make 1020 3040 times your money. And if it’s 5050 who knows what knew what the odds were. But if it was 5050 and, and let’s say there’s a 50% chance you’re gonna make 10 times your money and a 50% chance you’re going to, lose everything.

BILL BROWDER: That’s a pretty good deal. You know, I mean, you don’t want to put 100% of your money in that. But if you put in 1% of your money and 1% turns into 10% that’s significant. If 1% goes down to zero, that’s, that’s painful. But it’s not, it’s not gonna change your life. That’s for your investors.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: It was, as long as they understood that that was fine. But for you, it was, that’s quite a risky proposition.

BILL BROWDER: Well, yeah, I mean, I was young, I was, I mean, I was really young, I was like, 2027 years old or something like that when I, you know, started doing this Russian stuff and I, I moved to Moscow, I think when I was 30 I mean, now the, the, the, there, there was two risks is the financial, there sort of career risk, three risks, career risk, financial risk. And physical risk.

BILL BROWDER: So the career risk I didn’t care about, I could always do something else. I mean, you know, you can re invent yourself the financial risk. Ok. You know, I, I had made some money at Solomon Brothers but again, I could lose that and that’s not gonna be the end of the world.

BILL BROWDER: And the physical risk was interesting because back in those days there were literally people getting gunned down on the streets.

BILL BROWDER: But what, what was interesting about who was getting gunned down. It was like, the Russian mafia at the time was not like the Russian mafia. Now, the Russian mafia now and I’ll explain more later. But I it’s like government mafia. But the Russian mafia then was like the guys with the leather jackets and gold chains.

BILL BROWDER: Very stupid. And so, you know, if you owned a like Rolex store on the main thoroughfare in Moscow, of course, they’re gonna come and shake you down. And, but if, if you’re some anonymous person driving a, a second hand Volvo working out of a nondescript office in an office building, trading anonymous shares.

BILL BROWDER: No, nobody’s gonna touch you and nobody did. Nobody came anywhere near me and, and the way I describe it, it was at the time it was disorganized crime and I, I could completely, at the time, I could completely sail under, under the radar, but of course, it, it didn’t work out that way.

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STEPHEN CLAPHAM: You started off, it was incredibly successful and then with the Asian financial crisis, then long term capital management and then Russia defaulted and the stock market collapsed.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: You were quite young. I mean, how did you cope with that? I mean, we get setbacks here but they don’t, they’re not 90% setbacks.

BILL BROWDER: Yeah. Well, so, so I, I went from, from 25 million to a billion and, and, and as I mentioned, a billion is a, was a lot of money in, in Russia back then and my clients were so happy with me. You can’t, you couldn’t have imagined.

BILL BROWDER: I mean, they were sending their private jets to Moscow to pick me up to whisk me to the south of France so we could toast the success or joint success on their yachts. And, and I was featured in Business Week in the financial times as some kind of financial genius and I was the face of the, of this unbelievable rise in the Russian stock market on the way up.

BILL BROWDER: Then, as you mentioned, the Asian financial crisis hits and Russia had been financing Ru Russia had an incredibly large government debt burden that in which they were paying like 50% interest and it was rolling every three months and the Asian financial crisis hit. And everyone said, well, wait a second, how could the Russians afford this?

BILL BROWDER: And who’s gonna refinance it? And, and, and the people who were funding the Russian government weren’t like, you know, stable Western pension funds. They were like hedge funds and proprietary trading desks and total speculators everywhere. And everyone, one day, everyone just went on a buyer strike and said, you know, I’m not gonna buy any of this Russian paper anymore and they couldn’t sell any more bonds.

BILL BROWDER: They had to default on their debt. They devalued the currency by 75% and by the way, defaulting a local debt, like never happened before. It was completely unprecedented and my billion dollars went down 90%. I lost $900 million of my client’s money. But how did that make you feel?

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I mean, it must have made you feel terrible.

BILL BROWDER: It was pretty traumatic. It was, it was, it was terrible for a variety of reasons. The main reason was that I’d gone around trying to convince everybody that everyone in the, anyone who would talk to me, I would try to convince them to invest with me and tell them how great it was gonna be.

BILL BROWDER: And, and I told him, of course, there’s a 50% chance you’re going to lose all your money and a 50% chance you’re going to make all this money.

BILL BROWDER: And so the people who, who, like, had given me their confidence, I lost their money for them. And that, and, and I, I, and, and for me, that was just terrifying and mortifying and just like how horrible what, what a terrible person I was to like, coax them into investing and then, and then bring on this total disaster for them. And so I was told I was completely and absolutely determined to get their money back for them.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I must ask you, what was your mother saying? At this point?

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I told you she never have gone to Russia.

BILL BROWDER: Well, my, my mother was not all that highly attuned to what was going on. So thankfully, she wasn’t sitting there seeing everything that was happening or either way I think she would have been pretty upset.

BILL BROWDER: But II I was, but I was really feeling mortified that I wasn’t mortified because I lost my own money, but I was mortified that I had lost everyone else’s money. And so I wanted to get their money back and I was gonna do whatever I could to get it back. And in theory, it shouldn’t have been that hard to get back.

BILL BROWDER: And the reason for that was that I was buying shares of oil companies and gas companies and, and they all sold their product in dollars to the West. They were exporters and they all paid for their costs in rubles.

BILL BROWDER: And the costs had just gone down or the ruble had just gone down by 75% which meant that their costs had just gone down by 75%. So very simply, if your revenues are the same and your costs have gone down, then your profits should explode. Sure. That’s the, and, and, and by the way, in any time, a country does a massive devaluation and you can invest in.

BILL BROWDER: It’s a great thing.

BILL BROWDER: So, so that that should have been the opportunity to make the money back and I would have made the money back except for one huge caveat, which is that the people who were the majority owners of these companies were these people that we all know now to be the Russian oligarchs and the Russian oligarchs.

BILL BROWDER: These are guys who basically had, had, had used all sorts of schemes and tricks to steal these companies in the first place. And they had up until that moment, they’ve been getting so many visits from really Fancy bankers wearing some and the, and the bankers would say, hey, we, we love your company.

BILL BROWDER: This is a great company. You should be really proud of yourself for being an owner of this company and we think we can really do some great things with you in, in the financial markets.

BILL BROWDER: We can raise money for you, and all this good stuff, but you, you have to just completely, you know, keep your nose clean and don’t scandalize and your investors and the oligarchs were thinking, you know, it would be nice to get some of that money. We’ll just hold off on scandalizing them until later.

BILL BROWDER: And so they had been basically sort of behaving themselves with the hope of getting some free money on Wall Street. And then the crash came and it was really interesting, the crash, of course, affected Russia catastrophically, but it also affected a lot of banks pretty badly.

BILL BROWDER: They were, they were all owning these bonds and so on and, you know, the Russian bonds and so everybody pretended like they had nothing to do with Russia and any of these investment banks. And so, and so if, if, if you were like the coverage guy on Russia, you’re like, and, and then that you’re, you’re, you know, with some oligarch calls you up and says, hey, can you get me some of that money?

BILL BROWDER: Now, you’re saying, I’m sorry, who is this? And then put the phone down because you wanna be like, you know, the, the guy covering Germany or whatever and as a result, the oligarch started to get the message, which is that capital markets were closed. They’re not gonna get any money from, Wall Street and they’re figuring, ok, well, if there’s no money from Wall Street coming in, there’s no reason to behave ourselves anymore.

BILL BROWDER: And so they went, they embarked on an orgy of stealing which has been unprecedented in the history of business. They were doing asset stripping and transfer pricing and embezzlements and dilutions on a massive scale. And there I was, I was sitting with my last 10 cents on the dollar.

BILL BROWDER: I was mortified that I had lost my client’s money. I was determined to get it back and I was going to lose the last 10 cents on the dollar.

BILL BROWDER: And so I decided that I was gonna fight with these oligarchs to try to stop them from doing the stealing. I should, I should point out that it’s not like in America where if someone’s like, you know, defrauding you, you can go to the SEC or the FTC or the, you know, DOJ or any of these other three named, Organi 33 letter organizations.

BILL BROWDER: There’s no regulator in Russia, there’s no, courts that, you know, uphold any rules in Russia. It’s all sort of totally lawless. But the one thing, the one thing that, that I did have going for me was that Russia is the most, believe it or not the most transparent place in the world and for, and, and that sounds really completely crazy and counterintuitive.

BILL BROWDER: Russia is the most bureaucratic country in the world. The government collects information on everything in, in, in such minute excruciating detail.

BILL BROWDER: That’s, it’s almost impossible to do anything in Russia, without spending almost all your life filing things and the people who collect all this information, are working in ministries where they’re not being paid properly and because there’s no rules or laws in Russia, so they put the stuff up for sale.

BILL BROWDER: And so I, I, if I was meeting with you and we were in Russia, I could find out what your bank balance was. I could find out, I could find out who you’ve called on your mobile phone.

BILL BROWDER: I could find out where you’ve traveled to, I could even get your medical records, for a very small price. And, and as a result of that, that transparency, we were able to then investigate who was stealing from who, how they were stealing where the money was going.

BILL BROWDER: And I would create these unbelievable dossiers of stealing and the international media was really interested in this stuff and, and it’s always this way where the media, you know, that they don’t have time to do these investigations.

BILL BROWDER: They’re like reporting on the news on a day to day basis. And so I show up with a dossier on massive theft at Gazprom and I show up with the receipts and they’re like, great. This is interesting. They would of course verify the information and then they published these stories.

BILL BROWDER: Now that could have been the end of it. That could have been that, you know, we learned about the stealing, we published stories and then nothing happened. And, except for something really strange, which was, that, that was the moment that Vladimir Putin had just, showed up on the scene and he is not, he, he wasn’t then the same guy he is now.

BILL BROWDER: And the re the reason he wasn’t is he didn’t have any power. He, even though he was the president of Russia, all the power had been informally stolen by the oligarchs. They were running the country.

BILL BROWDER: And so when he shows up as president, the first thing he wants to do is to somehow bring the power of the position back to the presidency. And so here I was attacking the oligarchs who were the people who, who he was fighting with. And there is an expression that your enemy’s enemy is your friend.

BILL BROWDER: And I hadn’t met Vladimir Putin then I haven’t met him since then. I’ve never, never had an interaction with him.

BILL BROWDER: But as I started to, to put out these scandals, it served his interests perfectly because he was fighting with the same guys. And so I would expose the management of Gazprom, what did he do? The state was the majority shareholder of gasp prom he fired the management. I exposed the, the asset stripping at Unified Energy Systems. The state was a majority shareholder there.

BILL BROWDER: They changed the charter of the company so that they couldn’t do any more asset stripping and presumably share prices were loving it. Oh my God, it was unbelievable. So at the bottom of the market, I had $100 million. And as, as we started doing this stuff, 100 million, you know, doubled and doubled and doubled. By the time we were done, we went up 45 times, we went from 100 million to 4.5 billion.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: That must you, you got some in inflows. There wasn’t, was it?

BILL BROWDER: Well, I mean, yeah, inflows, outflows, I mean, it was, it was a hedge fund. So money came in and came out. But yeah, I mean, basically, if you had, if you had a unit of my fund at the bottom of the market, I think it went up 37 times or something like that and.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Over what period would that have been?

BILL BROWDER: 1999 to 2005? So, as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty good about myself.

BILL BROWDER: So as bad as I felt when it went down 90% I was feeling pretty good and proud and, and making money for my investors and making money for myself and, and, and these oligarchs are really easy people to hate because they’re so disgusting.

BILL BROWDER: These are so, so arrogant and so brutal and so not caring about anybody and anything other than themselves, everybody in my, my office was, it was just like the, the, the, I mean, we could have all been doing this for free and it would still be worth it.

BILL BROWDER: It was just such, so gratifying. These people were so horrible and they were doing such bad stuff and the Russian people were suffering so dramatically because of the oligarchs.

BILL BROWDER: And we were getting the bad guys. And so we’re making money, hand over fist and doing good. And you know, I mean, it was just the best life in the world.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: But when the U A CEO was arrested in, I think it would be in October 2003. That was something of a turning point, wasn’t it? And that was that, that made the news here even it was a big, big deal. What did you think when that happened?

BILL BROWDER: I thought great one down 21 to go. This is it the end of the oligarchs? The oligarch era is over. Thank God, I was really a fan of Putin. I was a, I was, I was a total supporter of taking down Khordorkovsky. But then, but then it turned out there was no next so they, so they arrested Khordorkovsky. He was the owner of Yukos, the richest man in Russia, the largest oil company in Russia, put him in jail for 10 years.

BILL BROWDER: Take away his oil company. And then the next one was Roman Abramovich. Everyone knows Roman Abramovich Chelsea football, but they didn’t arrest him. They didn’t take away his oil company. They gave him, I think it was $13 billion. Gazprom bought Sib NAFTA oil company for $13 billion cash gave it to him.

BILL BROWDER: And instead of being arrested, he, they, they appointed him governor of a, of a Chukotka region.

BILL BROWDER: And that was the, that was kind of the moment that, you know, I started to really have doubts about, you know, Putin’s sincerity in this whole thing because that was not, you know, if, if Putin had gone through and like gotten rid of all the oligarchs and like brought it all back to the state and paid people wages and, you know, funded hospitals and all that kind of stuff. It would have all been good.

BILL BROWDER: But that, that wasn’t his intention, his intention by arresting Khodorkovsky was to send a message to the rest of the oligarchs, not, not that he’s, the oligarchy is bad. It’s just that he wants to be the biggest oligarch.

BILL BROWDER: And when, when, when Khodorkovsky was sent, sent away for 10 years, all the other oligarchs go to Putin and said, jeez, what do we have to do so we don’t end up going to like Khodorkovsky to jail and he Putin said 50% and that was the moment that Putin became the richest man in the world and I had continued to do these naming and shaming campaigns after that and, and, and it, it wasn’t like there was a big announcement in the paper that, that they had this meeting and it was, he was, you know, the richest man in the world, you know, it was kind of, kind of subtle, you know, rumor mills type of stuff.

BILL BROWDER: But, I mean, now it’s, now it’s proven but, but back then it was not obvious but, but I wasn’t paying any attention to it at all. I was just, like, carrying on naming and shaming.

BILL BROWDER:

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: But did people know that it was you behind these press stories?

BILL BROWDER: Yeah. Yeah, it was absolutely clear. I was like, running press conferences.

BILL BROWDER: It was, I was, it was like, you know, Bill Browder’s, you know, the, you know, thing on gash brom or on, on Spank or on, on whatever company it was. And so it was, I was the, you know, I was, I was not hiding and when I was doing it, by the way I was like, you know, I had like, massive security. I was like, you know, I had like, 15 bodyguards and, and all this kind of stuff. And what was that?

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Like? I mean, that must have been quite depressing, wasn’t it?

BILL BROWDER: I mean, horrible, horrible. I mean, it’s, the only time I felt safe was when I was not physically in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: But, you know, it’s one of these things where, you know, if, if you had asked me when I was in the middle of this thing with like, you know, two, you know, three cars, you know, with the armed men, you know, convoy going from the office to the home and, you know, scoping for snipers and bombs and stuff like that.

BILL BROWDER: I, I probably would have said God, how did I end up in this mess? But it was all incremental. You know, it didn’t, it wasn’t like, you know, if I’d known that before I started that, that’s what, how I was gonna end up. And by which by the way, comes back to your original question, why didn’t anyone else go to Russia to do this because nobody else wanted to end up with armed guards and all this kind of nonsense.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And then you realized you were the frog in the boiling water when you arrived in Russia and they deported you.

BILL BROWDER: So, so, Ordesky was arrested in, in November of, of October of 2003. And I was so two years after that, I was then stopped at the border. I was flying back to Russia. I’ve been living there 10 years and I was stopped at the border. I was arrested, I was kept in the detention center of the airport and then I was deported and declared a threat to national security.

BILL BROWDER: And that was worrying. Well, it, what was more worrying was before they deported me when I was sitting in the detention center at the airport, not knowing what, what was going on. I thought I was gonna be sent to Siberia along with Khordorkovsky. And let me tell you, you, you don’t want to be in a Russian jail. And so they kicked me out, which was really bad for business.

BILL BROWDER: I mean, you’re the largest foreign investor in a country you specialize in the stock market of that country and they don’t allow you into the country. It’s terrible for business. But it’s hardly a, a very tough punishment compared to the kind of stuff they do. But I, but I thought to myself, you know, what else could they do?

BILL BROWDER: I mean, so, you know, gen generally when they, when they start coming after you, it’s not, you know, it’s not like one and done, there’s a lot of stuff they want to do. And so I looked around and I said, well, I’ve got, you know, they did, maybe they didn’t arrest me. But I got a lot of people out there evacuated my staff, everybody and their family members. We got everybody out.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And you must have had to love. These were Russian national.

BILL BROWDER: Yeah. Yeah. And then everyone was shocked, their wives hated me. You know, like how they were just living their normal lives. Like, from one day to the next, I’m organizing an emergency evacuation.

BILL BROWDER: They like, completely leaving their lives and their family, you know, their, you know, just, you know, their parents and their brothers and sisters and, and their friends and the kids schools and all this kind of stuff and I, I, you know, we had a whole evacuation thing going, got them all out. British government was good and we got, gave them, gave everybody, visas just to stay here.

BILL BROWDER: And then once we got everybody here, I said, you know, the other thing they can do is they could take away all of our money and, and we had big positions in, in a lot of companies, but we sold billions of dollars worth of stock quietly and quickly and got all, all of our money out.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: How did you manage that? Because it must have been very obvious that you were, that you were selling it.

BILL BROWDER: It wasn’t clear first of all that. I didn’t like announce that I’ve been kicked out, because I didn’t want to crash the market and we were really clever about it. So normally if you, if you start, if you call up every broker, I’ve got, a billion dollars worth of gas prom to sell this afternoon, you know, then everyone is gonna front run you and, and, and all that kind of stuff.

BILL BROWDER: And so instead of so we, we, we picked one broker who was from a big bank, but it was not a big, but they, they didn’t have a lot of market share and we said, listen, we have some stock to sell and if you can keep your mouth shut and just move the stock without like, you know, this will make your career and, and this one broker rid of all of our stock quietly and properly and nobody ever figured it out until it was all done.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: That must have been the best phone call he ever had in his career. Right.

BILL BROWDER: Well, I mean, this, this happened over the course of weeks. It was not just 11 day but, we made it, we, we, you know, he went from like, you know, being a, you know, second and a half tier broker to being the most important broker in the market and, and made a lot of money for himself and his firm and, and got us out and you were able to easily repatriate the money and we got all the money out.

BILL BROWDER: And the one, and people say, how’s that? Why, why did the Russians allow you to do that? And the answer is that they’re evil. We know they’re evil.

BILL BROWDER: But they’re incompetent at sort of executing their evil. I mean, the people who do this stuff, you know, that there, no, there’s just not a lot of planning, there’s, it’s, it’s all just reactive and like, sort of unprofessional, you know, these are like c students from d universities with no motivation who are running these, these operations.

BILL BROWDER: And and we got all of our people out and got all of our money out successfully. And I, and we were, you know, free and clear.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And at that point, what did you think? You think? Oh, well, we’ll just go and transfer to other markets. I mean, your skill at that point had been investing in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: Well, so, so yeah, exac, well, so my skill was investing in Russia. We made all of our investors a lot of money. We were able to return their money to them, you know, in a serious way.

BILL BROWDER: And everyone was saying, Bill Browder, what a great guy. You know, he’s a smart guy, he made his money, he knows, he knows like really tough markets and it’s like this Frank Sinatra song. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.

BILL BROWDER: I thought, well, hell, if I could make it in Moscow, you know, how hard could it be to like, invest in Brazil or, or Indonesia or Egypt? And so I, I set up, you know, my fund, my original fund was called Hermitage Fund. I, I had set up Hermitage Global and everyone came along said that, you know, Bill’s a great guy. Well, let, let, let’s, let’s give him a shot.

BILL BROWDER: And we started investing in other markets and I, and I, I was so I was kicked out in, in, November of 2005 and it was June 2007. And I should point out that the one thing I didn’t, the one thing I, I kept in Moscow was, was in office. I had, like, I think I prepaid the lease for two years or something like that.

BILL BROWDER: And I had one secretary sitting in the office, everyone else was gone. I’m at, I’m at a board meeting for my Hermitage Global, the new Fund.

BILL BROWDER: And I get this frantic call from the secretary in the Moscow office who I never spoke to because, you know, at my, my, like coo spoke to her regularly, but, you know, I didn’t, there was nothing to talk to her about and she’s, she calling me and hysterics and she said there’s 25 police officers here raiding the office and they’re like drilling safes, they’re pushing over a file cabinet.

BILL BROWDER: It was like a real, like, you know, as you’d see on TV, raiding the office and I said, I don’t know, let me find, let me think about it, let me figure it out. And so I call up, I have a law, a law firm in Moscow that I use as an American law firm. And I called the head of the law firm. He usually knows what to do and he sounds distracted when I get him on the phone.

BILL BROWDER: I said there’s 25 officers raiding my office. What should I do? He said, he said there’s 25 officers reading my office right now looking for your documents. I don’t know. Let me get back to you.

BILL BROWDER: So 50 police officers reading his office and my office and they were specifically looking for the stamps, seals and certificates for our Russian investment holding companies through which we had invested our money in Russia and they found them at the law firm’s office, they grabbed them and took them away. Ii, I was trying to figure out what, what, what was going on here.

BILL BROWDER: And I just had this feeling that if that that’s something really bad is gonna happen here. I don’t know what it is. Our money is safe, our people are safe, but I don’t want to be walking through Frankfurt airport, you know, one day and getting arrested on a Russian Interpol notice.

BILL BROWDER: And so there was no financial motivation, but there was sort of legal sort of protection motivation.

BILL BROWDER: And so I went out and I hired the smartest lawyer I knew in Russia, a guy named Sergei Magnitsky at the time, he was 35 years old, he was a tax lawyer and he specialized in, in all this sort of company formation stuff and, and he knew his way around things, he could run circles around everybody else. And I said to Sergei, I need you to figure out what’s going on here.

BILL BROWDER: And he started to investigate and he figured out that we no longer owned our companies anymore. The companies which were empty had been fraudulently reregistered using the documents seized by the police. And in, in a nutshell, he had figured out that there, there were, there were 22 parts of the scam.

BILL BROWDER: The first was they wanted to steal all of our money. But we, we’ve gotten our money out before they could steal it. But the, the one thing that they did succeed in doing, which was that when we sold everything, when we, when we had that, they had that broker selling everything for us.

BILL BROWDER: At the end of the sale process, we had a huge profit crystallized the profit and we paid to the Russian government $230 million of capital gains tax. And what Sergei Magnitsky, our lawyer had discovered was that the people who stole our companies had taken those companies back to the tax authorities.

BILL BROWDER: And they said there is actually no profit. These companies didn’t earn a billion dollars, they earn zero.

BILL BROWDER: And therefore the companies that paid $230 million of taxes, paid those taxes in error. And they said we’d like that money back. So they applied for a $230 million illegal tax refund on the 23rd of December 2007, 2 days before Christmas and was approved and paid out the next day.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I these things obviously, with the really efficient bureaucracy.

BILL BROWDER: Would be done. Right. If, if, if, if I had legitimately overpaid $5000 in 2007, I’d still be chasing it today, but $230 million which by the way was largest tax refund in the history of Russia paid in one day.

BILL BROWDER: Sergei and I were convinced this must be some type of scam because how would, you know, Putin is a, this is not our money, this was the Russian government’s money that was stolen.

BILL BROWDER: And we were convinced that if the guys who ran the country understood that, that, that their officials were stealing a quarter of a billion dollars from them, then, then that would be the end of that scam. And so we wrote criminal complaints to every different law enforcement agency in Russia to the head of every law enforcement agency in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: I went on to the newspapers, radio television to tell the story and Sergei gave sworn testimony to the Russian State investigative committee, which is their version of the FBI.

BILL BROWDER: And then we sat back and we waited for the good guys to get the bad guys.

BILL BROWDER: Well, as I said, there’s no good guys and instead of arresting the people who conducted the fraud, the people who conducted the fraud arrested Sergei Magnitsky on the 24th of November. He was arrested at his home, 24th of November, 2008, arrested at his home.

BILL BROWDER: He was put in pretrial detention and then he was tortured in pretrial detention to retract his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds and left lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation.

BILL BROWDER: They put them in cells with no heat and no window panes in December in Moscow. So he nearly froze to death.

BILL BROWDER: They put them in cells. No toilet, just a hole in the floor where the sewage would bubble up.

BILL BROWDER: They’d move him from cell to cell to cell in the middle of the night. And they so they wanted him to retract his testimony, but they also wanted him to sign a false confession to say that he stole the $230 million.

BILL BROWDER: And he did so in my instruction and they figure here’s a guy, you know, he’s wearing a blue suit and a red tie and he buys Starbucks in the morning and he sits in a Fancy Western law firm a week of this and he’ll buckle and sign whatever they want him to sign. But he wasn’t like that. He was a man of incredible integrity.

BILL BROWDER: And for him, the idea of perjuring himself and bearing false witness was more awful than the physical pain they were subjecting him to and he refused. And after about six months of this, his health started to break down. He developed terrible pains in his stomach.

BILL BROWDER: He lost 20 kg. He was diagnosed with having pancreatitis and gallstones and needing an operation which was scheduled for the first of August 2009 a week before the operation. They come to him again again, ask him to sign a false confession again. He refuses.

BILL BROWDER: And in retaliation, they abruptly move him from prison that had a medical wing to a maximum security prison called Boura, which is considered to be one of the most awful prisons in Russia at Butera’s health completely breaks down. He and his lawyers write 20 different desperate requests for medical attention. Every one of those requests was either ignored or denied.

BILL BROWDER: And on the night of November 16th, 2009, Sergei went into critical condition and on that night, the Beira authorities didn’t want to have responsibility for him anymore. And they put him in an ambulance and sent him across town to a different prison. But instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell, they chained him to a bed and eight riot guards with Robert Batons beat him until he died.

BILL BROWDER: He was 37 years old. He left a wife and two children that was November 16th, 2009. I got the news the next morning and it was the most horrifying life changing, traumatic news I could have ever gotten. And he was basically killed, because he worked for me. If he hadn’t been working for me, he’d still be alive.

BILL BROWDER: And when I was finally able to wade through the fog of, of heartbreak and hysteria to think clearly I made, I made a vow that I was gonna put aside my life as a businessman, as a financier. And I was gonna devote all of my time, all of my energy and all of my resources to go after the people who killed him to make sure they face justice. It’s a.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Shocking story obviously. Is there anything you would have done differently? I mean, you, you sound like you bear some guilt for this. But it seems to me that there’s nothing that any reasonable person would have done differently.

BILL BROWDER: Well, there’s a lot of things I could have done differently. I mean, he, I asked him to leave the country. So I had other lawyers. He wasn’t the only lawyer and when it became clear that it was unsafe for our lawyers after we had filed these criminal complaints, I asked them all to leave. Two of them did and they sit in my office to this day. But he said, he said, he, he, he pleaded with me.

BILL BROWDER: He said, you know, I’ve done, I’ve not done anything wrong. This is not stall, this is not 1937 which was the stall, you know, the height of the Stalin purges. He said that this is, this is not where we are right now. And I, I didn’t, I could have like emphatically pushed him. I mean, you know, would it, would, it, would, it have changed his mind? I don’t know, but I could have done that done differently.

BILL BROWDER: But generally, I mean, you know, IE everything else. I don’t know what I could have done differently. I mean, what I could have done differently is not gone to Russia in the first place. Seriously. That, that, I mean, people ask me what, what would you have done differently if I had stayed in California after Stanford? I probably would have made more money. Not had any dead people.

BILL BROWDER: I mean, having said that I would have, wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have had my children. But, you know, but, but, but I mean, you can live a different life. I mean, I mean, it’s, it’s absurd to even think that, but, but the, the, the answer is that, you know, at every step of the way I, I kind of faced with choices and I, and I chose what I thought was the right choice. I mean, I, so you’ve made very.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: You’ve made the moral choice all along. But I just wonder, I mean, how is your life affected now? Leaving aside the emotional issues, the, the, the safety of you, yourself and your family? I mean, when I met you, you were speaking at a conference and when I wanted to go to talk to you, a bodyguard wouldn’t, wouldn’t let me, I mean, it sounds to me that this is an awful way to live.

BILL BROWDER: Well, I mean, you know, the, the, you know, it’s kind of like Ukraine, you know, they didn’t start the war. Russia did. It’s an awful way to live not knowing if you’re gonna, you know, die in the night from an airstrike. But, you know, II, I didn’t choose this war. They chose it. I’m at war with them and, but, and, you know, we haven’t gotten into what I’ve done, you know, for Sergei.

BILL BROWDER: But, you know, I’ve made sure that, that, that Putin and his people paid a dear price for what they did to Sergei. There, there’s now legislation called the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets and bans the visas of human rights violators who killed Sergei Magnitsky and do similar types of crimes.

BILL BROWDER: And the Magnitsky Act now exists in 35 countries and, and off the back of the Magnitsky Act, thousands of Russians have been sanctioned for, for what they’ve done. And so II, I, they’ve paid a dear price and they’re very, very mad at me and they’re chasing me around the world with death threats, with kidnapping threats, with Interpol, arrest warrants with all sorts of nastiness.

BILL BROWDER: And how do I feel about it? You know, you, you, you, this is my life, you know, it’s not like I, it’s, it’s not like you can say, ok, I don’t want to do this anymore. It is what it is. I mean, you know, they’re after me, they, they declared war on me. And so this is my war and I’m fighting it. And, and so far I’ve survived it. I’m 14 years into it. I’ve survived it. What made you.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Write the book? Was it to get attention to the, the whole issue?

BILL BROWDER: Well, I, I mean, I think it’s important that everybody knows the story of what, you know, at the time everybody was there was in London here in particular, all these awful people were just like kissing Russians asses wanting to do business with them, wanting to have their money, not like ignoring all these terrible things that are happening.

BILL BROWDER: And I wanted the world to know who these people were. And both books have been thankfully very, very widespread and successful and well read and, and, and I think the books have actually changed the perception of, of Putin in Russia.

BILL BROWDER: And I mean, the, the reaction and, and, and the, you know, politicians all over the world financiers all over the world, you know, captains of industry have read this book and the, and the, and the consistent regular reaction is I knew Russia was bad, but I had no idea it was that bad.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: The books are amazing and I mean, you write brilliantly and it’s one of these things where the facts are stranger than fiction. Often you, you get that with these sorts of stories but the stories are absolutely exceptional and, and, and they’re incredibly well written.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I wondered, what you make of the situation now because you obviously look at the world through a rather different lens from, from most people. And perhaps we can talk about the, the, the tragic situation in Ukraine. The, it seems to me that Russia has won a lot of long grinding draw out wars. Is, is this going to be any different?

BILL BROWDER: I don’t think Russia is going to win this war.

BILL BROWDER: But Putin, so the, the latest statistics are that Putin has lost 85% of the troops he started out with when he launched this war.

BILL BROWDER: That’s more than 300,000.

BILL BROWDER: And that doesn’t, that doesn’t mention.

BILL BROWDER: And that doesn’t include, by the way, the convicts working for, for the Wagner group and the, and, and all, I mean, the equipment that’s been destroyed, you know, the Russia has been truly, I mean, and that’s just on the military side, we haven’t talked about the economic side, you know that they’ve, they’ve, they’ve lost their most important customer for their most important export industry, gas, natural gas forever.

BILL BROWDER: I don’t think anyone’s going to in Europe is gonna be, is gonna hook themselves up to the pipeline in Russia. Everyone’s gonna find alternative sources and, and, and that most important customer is responsible for the most important contribution to their government budget.

BILL BROWDER: They’ve lost a million of the most capable young men who don’t want to be cannon fodder in the war and they’ve all left because they don’t, they’ve left for other countries, programmers and accountants and marketing people and all this kind of stuff.

BILL BROWDER: It’s a total, absolute disaster. What Putin has done to his own country, what he’s doing to Ukraine, of course.

BILL BROWDER: Now what’s gonna happen in this war? I don’t know. I mean, at the moment he, so Putin is ready to, like, he’s ready to suck up his gut and, and take these hits in ways that we couldn’t have even ever imagined. Well, he doesn’t.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Have a choice. I mean, from sitting in, in his shoes, it’s not like he can retire.

BILL BROWDER: He’s a dead man. He can’t retire. And I believe he started this war specifically for that reason. But, but I, but I think he, he completely misjudged how it was gonna go. I don’t think, I don’t think he ever imagined that this was going to happen the way it happened. But do you.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Think our response has been the, the right response? Obviously, sanctioning individuals has been very effective, but the idea that you could somehow block Russian oil or impose a price cap on Russian oil seems a bit daft to me. I mean, what America should have been doing was encouraging the production of more oil and putting pressure on the Saudis to, to pump more and, and create the economy even more.

BILL BROWDER: Surely. Well, there’s a lot of stuff we, we could have done differently. I mean, first of all, and III, I was, I’m very involved in all this stuff and I’ve been present at meetings with, you know, the decision makers in, in us and other places and we, we didn’t want to have the Ukrainians win the war.

BILL BROWDER: We wanted the Ukrainians not to lose the war, but we didn’t want the Ukrainians to win the war. And I say we, I, I want the Ukrainians to win the war. I’m desperate for the Ukrainians to win the war.

BILL BROWDER: But Jake Sullivan, the president, President Biden’s national security adviser said explicitly at the Aspen security forum that he’s afraid of escalation and, and so we, we’ve been closely calibrating just giving them enough so that, that the Russians don’t succeed, but not because, because they’re scared of, of what’s Putin going to do if he, if he’s defeated, is he going to start a nuclear war?

BILL BROWDER: I don’t think so. But, but that’s what they’re afraid of.

BILL BROWDER: And so now we’re in this terrible place where we’ve kind of held the, forced the Ukrainians to tie one hand behind their back in fighting and all of a sudden, Biden no longer controls the narrative because the Republicans, the, the right wing Republicans in America are trying to withhold funding for the war and Biden can, can decide to do whatever he wants to do, but he doesn’t, he doesn’t control the budget if Congress controls the budget in America and they’re not.

BILL BROWDER: And at the moment, and I think that I can’t imagine that Ukraine is not gonna get the money that they need it. So some money they need from America in the future. I think it’s gonna come.

BILL BROWDER: But what it’s what it signals to me is, is that, and then by the way, Trump is, is, you know, if you look at the bookmakers that they’re, they’re saying he’s got the best odds of becoming the next president of the United States and he’ll cut off Ukraine completely.

BILL BROWDER: And so we’re in this terrible situation where II, I don’t think that, that, Putin can win the war. I mean, but it could, it could drag on in really awful ways and the number of dead people is gonna go, go up and it just, it’ll be, you know, it’s like the Vietnam War was a 20 year war.

BILL BROWDER: Yeah. The Iran Iraq War was an eight year war.

BILL BROWDER: And it’s just horrible. It’s just horrible. And, and by the way, if, if Putin does, would, if he were to win this war, he doesn’t stop at Ukraine.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Well, he, he needs a new enemy.

BILL BROWDER: He always needs an enemy. And so he’ll go after, Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania. And then what do we do? Do we, do we go to, you know, are we gonna have the, fortitude to, like, honor our NATO treaty obligations? To go to war with Russia or are we gonna, which is cata catastrophic if we do and catastrophic if we don’t.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: No, it’s a, it’s a terrible, terrible problem but it seems to be a lot of issues in the world now that you, that seem insoluble the same thing in, in the Middle East. I was struck reading, freezing order to the back. You’ve got pages and pages of Acknowledgments.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Hundreds and hundreds of people just, just tell us what, what’s it like doing your job and how, what’s your day look like? I was amazed because you, you’ve got hundreds of politicians and in, I think I counted 30 countries might, I might be, might, might have been more.

BILL BROWDER: Well, how do you spend your time?

BILL BROWDER: Well, I’m, I’m a full time justice warrior. I’m, I’m I’m out there fighting for justice for Sergei Magnitsky first and foremost, but, but not just for Sergei for other victims in Russia and not just in Russia but in other countries, you know what, what started as a campaign for one person has led to a global movement.

BILL BROWDER: The, the, the Magnitsky Act is now in 35 countries. It applies globally to Chinese human rights violators and Saudi human rights violators and Iranian human rights violators, et cetera and other victims come to me like with their stories and I, you know, I can’t really turn them away.

BILL BROWDER: And so I’ve got different cases and different people wrongly imprisoned and there’s different atrocities that have been committed where people haven’t have been untouchable and need to be touched and, and it becomes a full time, full time thing. And, but, but, but it’s, I, I’m very III I have created the one, the one thing I’ve discovered this is there’s a lot of bad people in the world.

BILL BROWDER: But, but if you look at the back of my book and you see that acknowledgment section, there’s a lot of really good people in the world A L in a lot of different places who, who went into politics for the right reasons.

BILL BROWDER: You, you, you, when you talk about politicians, I found some real heroes and sometimes people are heroic in one area and terrible in another area. But I found some real heroes and and, and like, you know, I’m, I’m I’m currently working. One of my closest friends is, is who’s in freezing order, who, who helped me get the Magnitsky Act passed in different countries.

BILL BROWDER: His name is Vladimir Karama. He went back to Russia after the war started. He’s a British National, he’s a Russian national and opposition politician and a great man. He protested the war and he’s now in jail in Siberia, in Ice in, in solitary confinement, serving 25 years.

BILL BROWDER: And I was just in, in parliament yesterday with his mother and we got the most warmest reception in parliament from the most important members of parliament.

BILL BROWDER: Cross Party, ready to do whatever they could to, to help, help him, help his family, help me, help him and, that those people were all, you know, people who helped on the Magnitsky Act and we got to know and be, and, and you can, you know, you can kind of kind of identify the good ones and, and, and there’s a lot of them that I’ve identified a different here and elsewhere.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Well, I, I think that’s a really lovely, slightly uplifting note and a very sad story to, to end it at, I, I just want to say, thank you enormously for, for doing this.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: It has been fascinating talking to you and we normally ask people to recommend a book, but I’m not going to recommend, ask you to do that because you’ve written two fantastic books that I know that people who haven’t read them will, will really enjoy Bill. Thank you so much.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Thank you Bill’s story of Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest torture and murder was harrowing in the book. It was awful. But sitting with Bill in the room while he told the story was a really grim experience. He must have told that story 1000 times, but he is still highly emotional.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I found it tough to sit through and afterwards I just didn’t have a question. And when I asked him, would he have done anything differently? What I meant was, you could not have done anything differently. This was something that happened through no fault of Bill Browder.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: But Bill feels a tremendous responsibility and I think he would do anything to be able to rerun his life differently like in sliding doors. And this is shocking really as Browder has dedicated his life trying to prevent a reoccurrence of that death.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: And I have enormous respect for the man. Perhaps it’s a function of age that as you get older, you value integrity more highly to me, Bill Browder is a hero. Here’s a man that was a dunce of his family. Yeah, he’s had three careers with success at the highest level.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: He not only had the best performing hedge fund in the world. One then a second best selling book and he has generated legislation in over 30 countries to sanction thugs and crooks. Quite an astonishing set of achievements and irrespective of Magnitsky’s tragic and untimely death. The world is a better place because of Bill Browder.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: I’m incredibly grateful to Bill for agreeing to come on to RSA for arranging it and to you for listening without this podcast. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to spend time with my heroes. You can follow Bill on Twitter at, at Bill Browder and we have posted details of the Magnitsky Justice Foundation on the web page at behind the balance sheet.com/podcast.

STEPHEN CLAPHAM: Thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe or follow and please leave a review or at least a five star rating on Apple Podcast or Spotify. Let’s spread the word so I can get more guests like Bill. Thank you.