Knyzhka Corner Book Review: Red Notice by Bill Browder

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Bill Browder’s fascinating new book Red Notice, is a roller-coaster ride through post-Soviet Russian history.

Bill Browder was one of the architects of Russia’s growing economy during the privatization era. He saw an opportunity to make a great deal of money and created the Hermitage Capital investment fund based in Moscow. Browder became the largest foreign investor in Russia. In 2000, his fund ranked as, “The best performing emerging-markets fund in the world.” (p. 1)

However, on November 13, 2005, Bill Browder was expelled from Russia. He would later become one of Russia’s harshest critics after the imprisonment and murder of his Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.

He grew up in the United States as the grandson of the leader of the American Communist Party. In his teens, Browder rebelled against his family’s ideology. “I would put on a tie and become a capitalist.” (p. 17) He studied business at Stanford University in California. After graduation, he moved to England to work for the Boston Consulting Group and Robert Maxwell. His first job led him to Poland where he discovered the immense opportunity for profit in Poland’s privatization process. After setting up his own investment fund called Hermitage Capital, Browder became immensely wealthy and successful.

However, his wealth and fame did not help him when he was targeted by Putin’s henchmen in 2005. His outspoken criticism of Russian corruption put him at odds with the Russian government and he was banned from Russia. He managed to get his money out of the country, but the Russian government leveled trumped up charges of fraud and tax evasion against his company.

One of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, exposed the massive tax fraud invented by Russian officials. He was thrown into jail and died from lack of medical treatment for the complications of pancreatitis and a severe beating by prison officials. Browder dedicated Red Notice to Magnitsky and called him “the bravest man I’ve ever known.”

Magnitsky’s death changed Bill Browder’s life. Not only did he feel responsible for Magnitsky’s murder in prison, but he also wanted to ensure that this injustice should be punished. During his campaign to seek justice for Magnitsky, Browder became a powerful critic of Vladimir Putin’s government. His efforts culminated in American sanctions against Magnitsky’s persecutors. Browder transformed himself from a rampant capitalist into a crusader for justice.

Red Notice is a very well written book about Russian finance, power and corruption. It reads like a novel, but the shocking aspect of this story is that it is based on the truth. Readers will be fascinated by the intricacies and dishonesty of the Russian government, financial and legal system. The power of the oligarchs and Putin’s support of their activities shows how utterly corrupt the Russian system is today. Browder’s efforts to implement sanctions against Russian lawmakers have facilitated the current sanctions against Russia for their illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Bill Browder’s campaign to seek justice for Magnitsky is truly admirable. It almost makes readers forget about his shameless profit-seeking in the post-Soviet era, and his support for Vladimir Putin in the early days of his political career. Browder has transformed himself into a human rights activist who uses the media very effectively. However, Browder lives a very dangerous life since he could be targeted for murder at any time like other critics of Russia. The recent murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov is an indication that no one is safe. Readers will definitely wonder if they will be reading about Browder’s mysterious death in the near future.

Red Notice is available at Amazon.

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