After his lawyer was killed for working to expose corruption in Putin's Russia, financier Bill Browder became a human rights activist.
Ali Velshi interviewed him for Al Jazeera in September but was reshown this morning when I viewed it. It can be seen by clicking here.
In his words, "I go from my $2,000 to $20,000. I ended up raising $25 million for an investment fund called the Hermitage Fund. I move to Moscow. I’m the only Wall Street–educated investor on the ground in Moscow at the time... I was the most successful hedge fund. I had more than $1 billion, which was a huge amount of money in any circumstance but certainly back then and in Russia... In 1998 the market crashes. They default. They devalue. It’s all a complete disaster. At this point I’m in a very rough place because I need to make my money back for my investors. And so I decide to try and stick it out and try to fight my way out of this hole for my clients. But what I discover is that the oligarchs, all these rich guys we all have heard about, now they had a completely opposite set of incentives... They start stealing. Then they start doing asset stripping, transfer pricing, embezzlement dilutions. Everything you can think of, they were doing. And so I had to start to fight them to save my last 10 cents on the dollar."
As to Putin factor, Browder says, "Well, I’m just fighting them to stop stealing all the last money that they have left in the company. It was a strange thing, where Vladimir Putin, the oligarchs were stealing power from him. They were stealing money from me. And so, every time that I would publicize a scandal about them, I was going after his enemies.
And that suited him perfectly. I’ve never had a conversation with Vladimir Putin. But I would publicize these things, and he would go around selectively crushing these guys based on my exposes.
For this brief period of time, up until 2003, he was kind of not sure of where he where he was in the whole scenario. He goes out in October of 2003 and arrests the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was the owner of Yukos, an oil company. He arrests him. He puts him on trial...
And they say, “Vladimir, what do I have to do to make sure I don’t sit in a cage?”
I wasn’t there, so I’m just speculating here, but I can speculate, based on what I have learned since, is his answer was “50.” Not 50 percent for the Russian government, not 50 percent for the presidential administration of Russia — 50 percent for Vladimir Putin. And at that moment in time, Vladimir Putin becomes the richest man in the world."
It is a very interesting story. To see the interview or read about it, click here.