Pok­ing Putin

Newsweek - - NEWS - BY MATTHEW COOPER @mat­tiz­coop

bill brow­der may seem like a mild-man­nered fi­nancier, but he’s

per­haps neme­sis num­ber one for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The 53-year-old is the CEO of Her­mitage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, once the largest for­eign in­vestor in Rus­sia. But in 2006, the author­i­ties kicked him out of the coun­try, call­ing him a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. The Amer­i­can-born hedge fund man­ager, how­ever, claims he was booted for ex­pos­ing cor­rup­tion. Brow­der’s part­ner in that ef­fort: his tax lawyer, Sergei Mag­nit­sky, who was im­pris­oned and died be­hind bars. Brow­der says that the charges against his at­tor­ney were false—and that he was mur­dered. And in 2012, the fi­nancier be­came the driv­ing force be­hind the Mag­nit­sky Act, a U.S. law that slapped sanc­tions on Rus­sian oli­garchs—to Putin’s great ire.

Canada has since passed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion, and Moscow con­victed Brow­der of tax fraud in ab­sen­tia. In Oc­to­ber, the Krem­lin put him on In­ter­pol’s in­ter­na­tional po­lice watch list—and ac­cused him of mur­der­ing Mag­nit­sky. (Brow­der calls the charge ab­surd.) Ei­ther way, the U.S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity briefly banned him in late Oc­to­ber after the Rus­sians had him placed on the In­ter­pol list. In a tele­phone in­ter­view from Lon­don, Brow­der spoke to Newsweek about Putin, cor­rup­tion and his fam­ily’s his­tory with the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist Party.

Has your travel prob­lem been cleared up?

The U.S. visa part has been cleared up. The part that’s not been cleared up is that...i have not heard from In­ter­pol that they deleted the no­tice from their sys­tem. So there’s two coun­tries I can safely travel to now. One is Canada, and the other is the United States. Be­yond that, if I cross over into any other coun­try with an In­ter­pol no­tice hang­ing over my head, I will be ar­rested. [ After this in­ter­view, Brow­der tweeted that In­ter­pol blocked the Rus­sian war­rant.]

What was Mag­nit­sky like?

Sergei Mag­nit­sky was an in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent, prin­ci­pled and ide­al­is­tic man. He was in jail, re­ally, as my proxy, and so it was im­pos­si­ble for me to sleep. I felt guilty tak­ing a shower be­cause I knew he couldn’t.

You weren’t al­ways Putin’s enemy, right?

I had a rose-col­ored glasses view of Putin in his rst cou­ple of years—pri­mar­ily be­cause the sit­u­a­tion was so chaotic at the end of the [Boris] Yeltsin era, so that ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing my­self, was look­ing for some kind of or­der. In­stead of get­ting rid of the con­cept of oli­garchs, he just be­came the big­gest oli­garch him­self.

You re­nounced your Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship in the ’90s and moved to Lon­don. Why?

My grand­fa­ther was an Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist, and he mar­ried my grand­mother, who was a Rus­sian Com­mu­nist. Dur­ing the 1950s, the Mccarthy era, my fam­ily was vi­ciously per­se­cuted. [When] my grand­mother was dy­ing of can­cer... the U.S.... wanted to de­port her back to Rus­sia. It just left a le­gacy of bad feel­ing about the rule of law. Things can swing wildly in the wrong di­rec­tion from time to time. And in a cer­tain way, we’re sort of see­ing that right now.

Would you ever move back?

I’ve made my choice.

Do you have hope for Rus­sia?

No, I’m highly pessimistic. Right now, it’s an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime. It’s headed to­wards a to­tal­i­tar­ian regime. Putin is terri ed of los­ing power, and the only way he can stay in power is to turn the screws tighter on the peo­ple.

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