A financier working in Russia from the 1990s, US-born Bill Browder soon learned that theft was rampant among oligarchs who profited from privatization following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, was detained, tortured and killed by Russian authorities during an investigation into a $230 million tax fraud against his company.
In response, Browder lobbied for passage of the Magnitsky Act, which aims to freeze the assets of those involved in human rights abuses. The Magnitsky Act has spread beyond the United States to other nations around the world – and has made Browder a target of the Kremlin.
Browder followed his New York Times bestseller “Red Note” with a new book “Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath” (both published by Simon & Schuster, a division of Paramount).
Read below an excerpt from “Freezing the Arrangement” and Don’t miss correspondent Seth Doane’s interview with Bill Browder on “CBS Sunday Morning” 10th of April!
When we first started investigating the $230 million tax refund scam that killed my attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, we had no idea it would lead to any of these earth-shattering developments or these unthinkable Russian reactions. Why didn’t Putin just throw some of his lowly officials under the bus for killing Sergei? Why should he try a dead man for the first time in Russian history? Why would he ruin his relationship with the West because of the Magnitsky Act? Why would he hack western elections? Why is he so committed to fomenting chaos?
Now we knew. Not only were millions of dollars at stake. Or even billions. There was probably more than $1 trillion at stake. And Putin will do everything to protect it.
This amount of money also helped explain why so many people had been murdered. People like Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Alexander Perepilichnyy and Andrei Kozlov. It also explained why the Kremlin tried to kill Vladimir Kara-Murza and Nikolai Gorokhov.
Despicable as the behavior of Putin and his regime is, none of this can happen without the cooperation of Western trailblazers. Lawyers like John Moscow and Mark Cymrot, spin doctors like Glenn Simpson, politicians like Dana Rohrabacher, and executives like those at Danske Bank—these people, along with many others, grease the machinery that allows Putin and his cronies to get away with their crimes.
Nor can these crimes happen without the consent of timid and inefficient governments that refuse to obey their own laws and professed values. Let’s take Great Britain as an example. The largest amount of money related to the $230 million crime didn’t end up in New York or Spain or France or Switzerland, but directly in my adopted home: London. This money was used to purchase property and luxury goods and, despite all the evidence I have presented to UK law enforcement, Parliament and the UK press, to date not a single money laundering investigation has been opened in the UK in relation to the Magnitsky case.
As you’ve followed me through this story, you may have asked yourself, “The odds are so incredibly high and there are so many risks… Why is he doing all these things?”
At first I did them because I owed it to Sergei. He’d been killed for working for me, and I couldn’t let his killers get away with it. As with the theft of my childhood flute, but on an infinitely greater and more meaningful scale, I was compelled to seek justice. As the theft of my flute showed, this penchant for justice is part of me. It’s in my nature. Rejecting him would have poisoned me from the inside.
Then, as things escalated, it also became a struggle for survival. Not only for me and my family, but also for my friends and colleagues and all the people who helped Sergei in Russia.
But in the end I did those things because it’s the right thing to do. For better or for worse, I’ve been obsessed with this thing since the moment of Sergei’s death. This obsession has affected every aspect of my life and all of my relationships, even those with my own children. These effects were not always for the better.
But this obsession has also introduced me to remarkable people who have changed not only my life but the course of history.
Most importantly, my obsession created a legacy for Sergei such that unlike so many others, his murder was not meaningless.
At the time of writing, Magnitsky Acts exist in 34 different countries: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, WW2 and7 European Union countries, Norway, Montenegro and Kosovo. This does not include the British Overseas Territories and Crown Protectorates of Gibraltar, Jersey, Guernsey, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. New Zealand and Japan are on deck.
More than 500 individuals and organizations have been sanctioned under these laws. In Russia, these include Dmitry Klyuev, Andrei Pavlov, Pavel Karpov, Artem Kuznetsov and Olga Stepanova and her husband, along with 35 other Russians implicated in Sergei’s false arrest, torture and murder, and $230 million tax fraud.
But not only Russians. Magnitsky sanctions have now been imposed on the Saudi assassins responsible for the assassination and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the Chinese officials who set up the Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang; the Myanmar generals responsible for the genocide of the Rohingya; the Gupta brothers who finished off the South African government; and hundreds of others for similar harmful acts.
For every person or organization that has been sanctioned, there are thousands of human rights violators and kleptocrats waiting in horror to see if they are next to be sanctioned. There is no question that the Magnitsky Law will change behavior and act as a deterrent to would-be murderers and thieves.
I can’t bring Sergei back. And for that I carry a heavy burden that will never go away. But his sacrifice was not pointless. It has saved many, many lives and will continue to do so.
If Russia ever has a truly democratic reckoning, future Russians will augment these legal monuments by erecting physical monuments to a true hero: Sergei Magnitsky.
But now the fight goes on.
From Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath by Bill Browder. Copyright © 2022 by Bill Broder. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.
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