Perhaps all you need to know to understand the essense of Bill Browder is what he carried with him in his briefcase when he lived in Putin’s Russia. “At all times,” he told me not long after we met, “I had $5,000 in cash in case I had to flee for the border and pay off the guards.”
Bill Browder’s stories are melodramas. They often begin with a ringing phone—or a knock on a door. In May of this year, for example, the American-born financier was bundled into a police car in Madrid by the Spanish police, who, acting on an Interpol warrant at the behest of Russian authorities, simply appeared outside his hotel room and took him away. “I was frightened this wasn’t an arrest but an illegal rendition to Moscow,” Browder said. (He was let go an hour later.) These moments of crisis are familiar to his 180,000 Twitter followers—“the army of Bill,” they are called—who worry about his safety in his adopted role as both human-rights advocate and financial sleuth, taking on Putin and his kleptocrats. “Vladimir Putin wants me dead,” he says almost every time he is interviewed.
Is there anyone, by now, who is unaware of Browder’s relentless crusade? At 54, he circles the globe helping governments recover millions that Russian oligarchs have illegally parked overseas. He has dodged six warrants seeking his arrest. He takes precautions in his daily routine, wary of possible security threats. His weapons are judicial and legislative: sanctions blocking the assets and the international travel of Russian criminals, murderers, and corrupt industrialists who have plundered their companies.
And he is succeeding. “Now every country knows the names of these guys,” he contends. “Now everyone who thought they could operate under the radar is discovering that you can’t. It started with [Special Counsel] Robert Mueller’s indictment of the 12 G.R.U. agents”—operatives from Russia’s military-intelligence service—“and they discovered that every e-mail they ever sent is available to the Justice Department. All of a sudden [the authorities] arrested a spy in Norway. They arrested two people who were getting ready to break into a chemical-weapons lab.
“Paul Manafort thought he could do all of this dirty shit and get away with it. Well, you know what? Every single thing he did has come out. If Trump has any secrets, the truth is going to come out. I don’t know if Trump has any secrets. But there is not going to be a secret left. While Trump is tweeting on his toilet about what a great guy Putin is, someone in the bowels of the U.S. Treasury is issuing regulations which basically [list the new names that should be added to the list of Russians who] should be sanctioned. It is crystallizing everywhere.” [Continue reading…]