[Book Review] “Red Notice” by Bill Browder

From hedge fund manager to Russian fugitive; Bill Browder and his international quest for justice.

Bill Browder made Billions of dollars for his clients; his lawyer was tortured and killed in a Russian jail and the world’s human rights movement applauds him for the Magnitsky Act – a tour de force of human rights legislation. Most of this book you couldn’t make up but not only is it all true, it’s probably one of the things keeping its author alive today. The story of how Bill Browder became Putin’s number one enemy and an international champion of civil liberties is a breathtaking tale of fortunes won and lost, high stakes corruption and a harrowing fight for justice.

When Russia capitalised in the mid 90s, highly undervalued state assets came onto the global equities market. Bill Browder’s Hermitage Capital was one of very few firms willing to take a huge stake in this coming of age economy; in a few years they made over $900m and were front page news as one of the most successful hedge funds of all time. The Asian crisis wiped out most of these gains but Browder bounced back and recovered most of his client’s money; but this time he did so with a healthy dose of shareholder activism that exposed corruption on a grand scale – by very powerful and wealthy Russian oligarchs.

Although this initially aligned him with Vladimir Putin, a rising political star at the time and eager to make his mark, once Putin had achieved supreme power such activism and success proved rather unhealthy for Browder. After a routine trip to London he was denied entry back into Russia, and then systematically his assets, friends, freedoms and safety was stripped away. A powerful Russian network of corrupt officials were determined to destroy him through illegal raids and seizures, arrests, lawsuits, charges, threats and even the brazen theft of some his companies.

Although Browder and his associates had fled to relative safety in London, his loyal and incorruptible lawyer Sergei Magnitsky stood his ground in Moscow; exposing the conspiracy and naively believing that justice would prevail in his beloved home country. Magnitsky was detained, abused and tortured for months, became seriously ill and eventually died in his bed at the hands of a squad of baton-wielding prison guards. Sergei’s death and Browder’s subsequent, guilt-stricken lobbying for international justice galvanised the world’s human rights movement around a single case that represented the deaths and abuse of thousands more.

The US Congress Magnitsky Act of 2012 finally brought justice for Sergei; the perpetrators of his death were barred from the US, their assets were frozen and the European Parliament extended the reach and scope of this legislation two years later. Humiliating Putin and discrediting his government in this process earned Browder more legal fights and a tit-for-tat law was passed in Russia barring US families from adopting Russian orphans. Such cowardly retaliation and anger in top level Russian politics hasn’t deterred Browder and his best insurance policy is telling the world all the disturbing details; read this best seller and you’ll understand why.

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