Freezing Order: Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath, with Bill Browder

Sep 9, 2022 58 min listen

What will it take to stop Russia’s President Vladimir Putin? Few have seen his wrath as closely as American-born British financier Bill Browder, who was the largest foreign investor in Russia until investigations led by his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky exposed massive corruption and misconduct by Russian officials leading all the way to Putin. After Magnitsky's murder in a Moscow jail, Browder continued to advocate for justice, becoming Putin's next target, a story he tells in his latest book Freezing Order and in this Book Talk with Doorstep co-hosts Tatiana Serafin and Nikolas Gvosdev.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good morning, everyone, for those of you joining us from the East Coast; good afternoon to our guest Bill Browder, joining us from London. Welcome to this edition of The Doorstep Book Talk. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I'm Tatiana Serafin, also a co-host here at The Doorstep, and I'm really excited today to welcome you, Mr. Browder. Thank you so much for coming.

We are talking about Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath. It's a great book that gives us so much to talk about today. We are going to start out the conversation, and I welcome all of you in our audience to put your questions in the chat; we will start that in about half an hour. But we want to roll out with the news, and there is so much to talk about.

Mr. Browder, you spent so much time in Russia, wrote your first book about your experience with corruption under Putin, and this is your follow-up book that details the further trail and your further fight for justice and fight for survival. I want to highlight those two areas, the aspect of justice that takes us around the world and into our doorstep into the United States—for our audience here in the United States we like to talk about how global events are connected to our work here, and there is so much to talk about there—and also your fight for survival.

I want to start out with a personal anecdote. I used to work at Forbes, and I was a colleague of Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered in Moscow, so I understand your fears and your challenges as you fight for justice for your former lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. I also value what we call in the Orthodox faith vichnaya pamyat, which is "eternal memory," so we want to remember his name. You write on page 207: "Putin wanted two things: The repeal of the original law and for Sergei Magnitsky's name never to be uttered again." I think his wish will never come true. His name will be uttered forever.

You have a decade and a half fighting for this, and we want to hear your story. I want to start with the question: With Putin kind of cornered do you feel vindicated? With all of your efforts do you feel like you are finally vindicated?

BILL BROWDER: I think "vindicated" is probably the wrong word. I spent a decade screaming from the rooftops that Putin is a killer, he is a criminal, he means only harm to everybody he deals with, and I was so ignored, sidelined, and marginalized by so many important people because there was such an interest in not coming to that realization. Everybody wanted the Russian money that was sloshing around London, New York, Paris, and Berlin; everybody wanted Russian gas; and even if nobody wanted any of that stuff they didn't want any trouble with this guy who nobody knew how to deal with.

If the important decision-makers, the powerful people in the world, had listened to me, I think we might have avoided some of this heartbreaking mess that we are involved in right now. There have been so many instances where the West could have taken a much harder line on Putin and where the West could have imposed real sanctions—the way we are doing right now—before all this stuff happened, and had we done that it might have had a real impact on Putin's calculations.

Everyone says Putin miscalculated. I don't think he miscalculated. He was basing all of his decisions going into Ukraine and everything else on past experience, and his past experience was that the West was complicit, narrow-minded, business-focused, and never wanted to ever scream bloody murder when he started killing people. I would say that "vindicate" is not the right word at all. I am heartbroken to watch the world going up in flames, Ukrainian women raped, and children butchered. What we are seeing right now is so horrible. It is infuriating, and nobody is taking any responsibility for it.

I go to these international conferences and listen to various national security advisors of various American presidents, and none of them will take any responsibility for giving Putin a pass for the last 22 years. They all say, "Oh, well, big surprise that all this happened." I don't think it's a surprise at all. If this is who he is, this is who he was, and we could have done something differently.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: You are speaking about past experience. When you said that it reminded me once again of that dramatic footage from the Kremlin two days before the invasion, where Putin gathers the Russian Establishment, and the thinking there is, The West will just learn to live with this as they have learned to live with Georgia and everything else, and definitely something changed.

As you said, you have been shouting from the rooftops for all of these years, but are you seeing a substantive change? With the work that you yourself have done in trying to change this focus do you think we have reached a real turning point, or do you think that at some point we will slip back into—unfortunately to use this phrase—"business as usual" with Russia, that there will be some sort of ceasefire in Ukraine and then sooner or later the old habits, the money sloshing around, all of that will come back? Do you think we have reached a turning point in this?

BILL BROWDER: I think there is never going to be business as usual with Russia going forward. What Putin has done—the atrocities that he is committing in Ukraine and the violation of their territorial integrity—will not allow any type of business as usual.

Having said that, let me just explain to your listeners what Putin's objective is here. He can't win this war militarily. He has found himself in an effective military stalemate. The Ukrainians now have enough weapons, enough ambition, and enough boots on the ground to prevent their country from being occupied by Russia. But that is totally contingent on the West's military and financial support of Ukraine.

So Putin is betting not on a military victory right now, he is betting that if he can keep the price of gas high, if he can make people shiver in Europe this winter, and if he can prevent the export of wheat from Russia and Ukraine and create a food and starvation crisis in Africa, which leads to a migration crisis in Europe, that may change the democracies that we live in in the West. He is betting on populist leaders emerging from this who will maybe at some point in time in the future say completely different things than we are saying now.

If you look at who we have running our countries right now—there is no change between Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, I don't think there will be any change in the United States if Donald Trump is not reelected. I think any Republican will be the same as any Democrat. The only change would be Donald Trump. But somewhere along the line there could be some fracture in this Western alliance based on populism, based on inflation, and based on refugees. We don't know where that would be, how that would be, and what it would mean, but that's what Putin is betting on right now.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I would like to tie that into your comment about enablers, because that change or not-change comes because people enable this behavior. I want to read from page 293: "As despicable as Putin and his regime's behavior is, none of this can happen without the cooperation of Western enablers, 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, lubricate the machine that allows Putin and his cronies to get away with their crimes."

I want to detail this because I feel this is part of the success of your book, this naming names and showing the links of how we here in the United States—and you show the links in Europe too—have created systems not only for money to flow undetected but also for people to be corrupted. You point out in your book several lobbyists and lawmakers here who literally, as you say on page 221: "I was literally dodging Russians in U.S. government buildings on Capitol Hill." I would like you to describe that scene for us and for our readers because that was so vivid to me. Here is the bastion of democracy that now for me is corrupted by January 6 and by your description of what you were running from. Can you describe that scene and why to our readers?

BILL BROWDER: My main task since Sergei Magnitsky was killed was to get the Magnitsky Act in place in the United States and all over the world. It started with the Magnitsky Act just applying to Russia, but in 2016 the Magnitsky Act was going to be broadened to apply to the whole world, to Chinese human rights abusers, to Myanmar, Iran, and all sorts of other places.

Putin really had a problem with this, not broadening it, but he had a problem with the name "Magnitsky," as we discussed earlier. So Putin employed a whole team of people through a Russian oligarch—a Russian oligarch was paying the bills—and this Russian oligarch paid the bills for BakerHostetler, one of the major white-shoe law firms of the United States, that works for Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, and so on, and Glenn Simpson in a firm called Fusion GPS, which was also working on the "Trump Dossier" at the time, on public relations (PR) firms, and various other things.

They started running around Capitol Hill with Russian money, funding an operation to try to convince lawmakers to take Sergei Magnitsky's name off the Global Magnitsky Act. In order to do that they then claimed that Sergei Magnitsky wasn't murdered, that he died of natural causes, that it is slander against the Russian penal system to say that he was murdered. They claimed that Sergei and I were financial criminals trying to cover up our own financial crime and that Putin and his cronies were innocent of all these financial crimes, and they were running around the halls of Capitol Hill while this was all going on—unregistered; they didn't register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which is in place to prevent this type of stuff from happening. So effectively what you had was a Russian intelligence operation subcontracted to U.S. citizens to pursue Russia's—Putin's—malicious policy objectives in Washington.

It was unbelievable for me at every step of the way that this was going on, that Americans would sell themselves to the Russians and that there was nobody standing in the way of making this happen. There was no Federal Bureau of Investigation investigation, there was no Department of Justice intervention. This was going on in plain sight, everybody knew it, everyone was shocked by it, and nothing was happening. If you are not involved in a situation like this, you think that the system works, that there are regulators, law enforcement, rules, and so on, and what I discovered is that the entire system isn't fit for purpose.

It's not just in the United States. It is here in London, where I live, maybe even more so. Here we don't even have a Foreign Agent Registration Act. Here we also had literally members of the House of Lords—which is I guess the British equivalent of the U.S. Senate, an upper chamber of Parliament—literally on the payroll of the Russian government pursuing Russian government interests while they were serving in Parliament.

These Western enablers are what in many ways lubricated the system for Putin so that there were no reactions to the invasion of Georgia, there was no real reaction to the Crimea invasion, no reaction against Russia per se. There was no reaction against the Salisbury Novichok poisonings. British people were busy going to the World Cup in Moscow shortly after they launched a chemical weapons attack using Novichok in a quiet British town.

Putin figured out that he didn't need to just employ the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the KGB successor organization. He didn't need to employ the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). He could bring in Americans and Brits to do his work, and there didn't seem to be any law or law enforcement stopping it.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Just to build on that, it is a classic case of influence peddling, of all the ways in which the U.S. system certainly is permeable, the guardrails aren't there or they are not enforced, and yet it doesn't seem that there has been any substantive attempt to change this. It also seems—and this goes back, Tatiana, to your point and to this point about Global Magnitsky—that people may say, "I don't want Putin as a client, but I am certainly open to lots of other people still who maybe don't have the spotlight on them."

Again, there is this very compelling incident: You are on the Hill, you are in the heart of American democracy. We have always understood that there is money. I am not being naïve about it—Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-levels of naivete—but at the same time there are real risks to national security and the question of national interest as well as our values being undermined. Again, Tatiana asked the vindication question at the beginning, but coming back to that, is there even any belated movement now with what we have seen happen in Ukraine of any attempt to say, "We've got to plug these leaks," or is this just, "This was a terrible incident but we're going to move on?"

BILL BROWDER: It's interesting. On the question of Putin and Russia, everybody is pretending they never did anything. There is this amazing professor from Yale, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who has been putting together these lists of who's in and who's out of Russia—nobody wants to be on the list of who's still in—and it has been highly effective. Everybody is saying, "We're out now, we never wanted to be in." It was very interesting. There was a British law firm that two days after the invasion applied—I think VTB Bank was sanctioned—for an exemption from the sanctions to represent them in some kind of legal debate that they were involved in. I remember I started tweeting about it, and it got pretty viral. Some articles were then written about it, and two days later they withdrew their representation for VTB Bank.

I think there are now huge commercial, public, and consumer pressures for people not to be doing this type of work for the Russians, but there is no commercial or public pressure for people not to do work for the Chinese government or all sorts of other kleptocrats, dictators, and evil regimes around the world. I don't think we have structurally solved the problem. It's now unfashionable to be doing anything connected to Putin because he is so obviously a monster and everyone has finally figured it out—you can watch these horrifying images on television—but no, the system hasn't been fixed at all.

Nobody has borne any consequences from this. Nobody is in jail, nobody has been impoverished, and nobody has had their lives ruined for basically profiting off an evil, murderous dictator. They have all just sort of slunk into the woodwork, hoping that it all blows over and are waiting for their time to reemerge doing some other profitable work for some other dictator.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I am struck again from that scene that it doesn't appear that anyone's DC privileges have been revoked, including some of the people you just mentioned now. There is no shunning.

BILL BROWDER: I was at the Aspen Security Forum, which is the most august gathering of national security executives from the United States and other countries around the world and for media and everyone else, and Glenn Simpson, who was working for the Russians trying to chase me and my colleagues down on behalf of the Russians and trying to smear us in Washington, was proudly walking around the Aspen Security Forum, shaking hands and slapping backs as if nothing had ever happened.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Trying to drum up more business.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of that, you mentioned a lot of the bureaucracy that you dealt with, and one of the things that I think is the great part of this book is that it could be a primer on how to make a bill a law or get an idea into passage because you do actually take us through all the people you had to meet, how many times you had to go testify, and all the work that you had to put in. It wasn't an easy process. Was there anybody or anything that you feel worked? We want to try to be positive for our audience. Was there any part that worked? I want to bring up something that I think you highlighted that worked, but I want your view.

BILL BROWDER: A lot of things worked. If we get away from the sausage-making for a second and look at the output of 12 years of advocacy on behalf of Sergei Magnitsky, there are now 34 countries in the world that have Magnitsky Acts in place. To get a law passed in the United States is less probable than winning the lottery. It really is almost impossible. There are so many crosscurrents to stop a piece of legislation from happening. To get a piece of law passed in 34 countries is inconceivable. It worked beyond anyone's wildest imagination.

Why did it work? It worked because there were a lot of amazing people in every place who cared about doing what was right. We talked about the bad guys, but it's worth mentioning the good guys. There is a character in this book and my previous book named Kyle Parker. Kyle Parker was the chief of staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which is the body in the U.S. Congress that deals with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He made it his life's work inside Congress to write the Magnitsky Act, to get the Global Magnitsky Act in place, to run all the tracks, and to work with some amazing senators who he worked for—Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi.

I should point out, by the way, that we are in a world of hyperpartisanship, but there was no partisanship whatsoever when it came to the Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act passed 92-4, and there was no difference whatsoever between Democrats and Republicans when it came to the Magnitsky Act.

If you look at the back of my book, it's an extremely long Acknowledgments section in every different country because I name the names of all the heroes of this story—the journalists who put themselves on the line to expose the money laundering and the corruption, the various politicians in all sorts of countries in a world where nobody wanted them to be mentioning all this stuff about Russia that was out there, and law enforcement in different places. I would say in a certain way, in spite of all the obstacles I was up against, we created a global international movement with more than a thousand people who have played a role one way or another and who decided that what was going on in Russia and other places is wrong, to freeze the assets and ban the visas of those people who do that is the right way of going about it, and taking it upon themselves. I am in debt to so many goodhearted people who took on this cause.

TATIANA SERAFIN: You mentioned journalists. That was one of the highlights I wanted to pull out, not only because I am a journalist myself but also because we live in a time where journalism and journalists are attacked and, as you mention in the book, there is the notion that fake news is everywhere and you can't trust anything. One of the highlights for me in your book was the fact that—you mentioned Richard Engel at MSNBC, reporters from The Wall Street Journal, and Danish reporters—across the spectrum there were many reporters who were sharing your story and who were digging into all of the pieces of the puzzle that you were putting together and shining that light.

Also your work on Twitter I thought was fascinating, this idea that maybe 30 years ago this couldn't have happened because there is so much more access to information and so many more people taking the risks to get that information to where it needs to be. I am thinking of the scene where you have the lawyer taking pictures of the Russian documents and all those people who were then willing to travel and share the information with investigators here in the United States. The importance of that outlet, that echo chamber of journalism and Twitter I want to highlight with this story of how you tweeting in Spain helped you not to get arrested. Could you share with our readers that story? That is the first scene, but it is a great way to get into the book.

BILL BROWDER: This was an interesting part of what has been happening. One of our biggest objectives, in addition to the Magnitsky Act, was to figure out who got the $230 million of corruption funds that Sergei Magnitsky exposed and was killed over. For 12 years I have had a team of people working with me to try to find that money, and when we find that money what we do is then write a criminal complaint to the law enforcement agency of the country where that money ended up and ask them to freeze that money, which is why the book is called Freezing Order.

We found most of the money. One of the countries we found the money going to was Spain. We found money going to Spain, and it was used to buy luxury real estate on the coast of Spain for some members of the Russian government or their relatives. So I wrote a criminal complaint to the chief anti-corruption prosecutor of Spain, who is a man named José Grinda. He has a great reputation of going after a lot of really bad Russian characters. He responded positively to the criminal complaint.

Under Spanish law in order to initiate a criminal investigation you have to go physically and present your evidence to the prosecutor and then sign a declaration as a victim, so I was invited by him to go through this formalistic process to initiate the criminal investigation he wanted to pursue. So I was invited to Madrid in May of 2018. I arrived in Madrid and checked into a hotel in Central Madrid. I got an amazing upgrade at the hotel. They gave me the best suite in the hotel. I guess it was empty at the time.

I have a good sleep, I wake up the next morning, I open the door to go to breakfast, and standing outside the door is the manager of the hotel, the one who had given me the upgrade, and two uniformed Spanish police officers. The manager was in mid-knock, I open the door, and he very sheepishly says, "Excuse me, Mr. Browder, I'm sorry to bother you, but these two gentlemen need to see your identification."

I pull out my passport, hand it to one of the police officers. He has a clipboard and compares it to the name on the clipboard and says, "You're under arrest."

I say, "What for?"

"Interpol, Russia."

At this point, the manager of the hotel starts to panic. He's not worried about me being arrested. He's worried that his great suite that he upgraded me to is going to be out of use because it's occupied with my stuff. So he begs the officers to allow some time for me to pack my bags. They grudgingly agreed. Because it is a series of rooms, I go to one of the rooms where they can't see me, and I call my wife. She is not picking up her phone. I call my Spanish lawyer who organized my meeting with the prosecutor, and he is not picking up the phone. My wife had always told me that if you ever encounter a situation like this and you can't get hold of anyone, put it on Twitter, so I type into Twitter: "Urgent, being arrested in Madrid, Spain, right now on a Russian warrant," and I press send so at least somebody knew about it.

I then grab my stuff, pack my bags, go down to the police car, and they throw me into the back of the police car. I am sitting in this police car. It's like any other police car, I guess. It's my first time in the back of a police car. You can't roll down the windows. You can't open the door. There is thick plexiglas between me and the guys in front. I have this terrible realization that maybe these guys weren't actually police officers. How hard is it to get a uniform and maybe steal a police car. I thought, I wonder if people really believe my tweet. Maybe my account had been hacked. There was no real way of verifying it.

To add more mystery to the whole situation, these guys didn't pat me down or take away my phones or anything, which I thought would be the kind of thing that a policeman would do if they were arresting someone. But because they hadn't taken away my phones, I had an opportunity to take a picture surreptitiously of the backs of their heads and all the paraphernalia on the dashboard. I took the picture, they didn't see me taking it, and then I tweeted out: "In the back of the police car on the way to the station." I press send.

At this point all the journalist who are all trying to figure out what to do about this thing now had some real verification that I was in the back of a police car. My phone was on silent, but all these news alerts started coming up—Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times—"Browder arrested in Madrid," and all these people were watching Twitter. It was now going viral.

Journalists were then starting to call Interpol in Lyon, France, they were starting to call the French Interior Ministry. I am a citizen of Great Britain; they started calling the British government. In the dozens, probably hundreds, everyone was trying to figure out what was going on. By the time I get to the police station they probably had gotten 50 calls, and an hour and a half later the chief of police came in and said: "We have just received notice from Interpol that the warrant is no longer valid. You're free to go."

Everyone talks about how Twitter is a force of evil, but in my case it certainly got me out of a nasty scrape. If I had to go through the normal channels, my lawyer applying to the judge, the judge rejecting it, and then the Russians have 45 days to issue my extradition papers, then I have 30 days to respond, and they have 30 days—this thing could have gone on for months and months, and in the meantime they are freezing my assets around the world and trying to arrest my colleagues. It could have ended up badly. Twitter disrupted the process of law enforcement to make the Spanish and Interpol realize the unbelievable disgusting mess they had waltzed into.

By the way, it's really interesting, as a total aside. We all read the papers and all this stuff. Police don't google anybody's name. If there's a warrant, they go and arrest the person. It became very clear then very quickly that people probably could lose their job if they didn't let me go at that moment in time.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That also points to a phenomenon—we have talked about enablers but also the way in which Western legal systems can be weaponized by people from the outside. This was using the Interpol process, which is meant to go after actual criminals, but filing the right paperwork and pushing the right buttons to create this scenario. As you said, the two Spanish police officers sent to arrest you, they are not independently verifying or googling and seeing what's going on. They are following a procedure. Again, I think that speaks to work that you and others have been doing about what we call "lawfare," about strengthening our institutions so that they can't be as easily perverted by taking advantage of process, in this case by filing a notice through Interpol and then having Spanish law enforcement automatically respond because that is just the way Interpol notices are treated.

Also, your point about whether these were legitimate police—reading about that incident I don't think that was necessarily a paranoid or incorrect assessment that you had to weigh that as a possibility, especially these days as we have seen.

Turning it back, to jump on the thing about freezing orders, obviously since February 24 we have seen a lot of assets frozen—yachts, real estate, bank accounts. Again, is this better late than never where we're finally going after the trails of dark money and the use of shell companies and third-party intermediaries to acquire property and assets in the West, or again is this episodic and that maybe a specific Russian oligarch loses a yacht, but the system that allowed him or her to get the yacht in the first place isn't going to be tampered with?

BILL BROWDER: I'm afraid to say that I don't see any structural changes to how all this stuff works. Yes, now we are all waking up to the fact that money laundering is connected to blood, violence, and death, which I knew and tried to explain to other people, but they didn't want to think about it.

The United States has been very good about it. They set up the Task Force KleptoCapture, and they are going after certain oligarchs. But that is, as you say, episodic in the sense that all countries should have total transparency about ownership because then you don't need a Task Force KleptoCapture from the Department of Justice—everybody can see who owns what, and if a government official owns something, then why do they own a villa in the center of London? We don't have that.

Here in the United Kingdom I should point out that there has not been a single economic crimes prosecution against a Russian in the 22 years since Putin came to power, and London is the major hub of money laundering. A trillion dollars has been laundered out of Russia since Putin came to power, and the British have not done one single prosecution. That tells me that major structural reforms need to happen here, in the United States, and elsewhere because it is one thing to pick a few emblematic cases to make a point, but it is another thing to create a system where it is hostile to money laundering.

For that matter, one of the big targets of my book, a name that I named, is Danske Bank. Danske Bank is Denmark's largest bank, and Danske Bank was responsible for laundering the money from the Magnitsky case, and it was responsible for laundering $230 billion of dirty money that came out of Russia. Not a single person has gone to jail, as far as I am aware, from Danske Bank. If Danske Bank people are not going to jail, then other people who have laundered less money are probably even less likely to go to jail. People need to understand that if you do this kind of stuff you should go to jail, and if they don't, when they are starting to do the same type of money laundering for some other dictatorship or evil regime, the profits outweigh the costs or the risks.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I would like to pivot a little bit to the questions coming in from the chat if we can. I would love to continue the money laundering talk, but let's hear a different question, specifically because if we are going back to the comments of what you went through with Interpol in 2018 there was also a point where you were in the United States and Trump and Putin met in Helsinki. I am going to ask what happened there with this question from the audience: "Do you agree with Rep. Kevin McCarthy's comment that Trump was on Putin's payroll? Did Putin bail out Trump through Deutsche Bank when no one else would lend him money?"

BILL BROWDER: Let me tell the Helsinki story very quickly first. In July of 2018 Trump and Putin met in Helsinki at the Helsinki Summit. It was on a Monday, and the previous Friday Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the U.S. political process, indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for hacking the election.

The obvious question at the summit was whether Putin was going to hand over these 12 military intelligence officers. When he was asked that question by a Reuters journalist, he smiled, having clearly been preparing for it all weekend before the summit, and said: "Yes, it's entirely possible that we can hand over these officers, but we would expect some reciprocity from America. Specifically we would like Bill Browder"–me.

That is pretty upsetting to hear, that of the 7-plus billion people in the world, I am the one person being mentioned at the summit, but it wasn't surprising because Putin had been chasing me for years. I have been put on Interpol eight times. They twice prosecuted me and sentenced me to 18 years in absentia, and he has been bringing my name up everywhere all the time.

The question was: What was Trump going to do about this. So another journalist asks Trump: "What do you think?"

He said, "I think it's an incredible offer."

That was really horrifying for me because I was actually in the United States at the time, and I could easily picture four blacked-out SUVs converging on my home, coming in, grabbing me, putting a bag over my head, and me waking up in a Moscow prison. That really was upsetting. By the way, it took Trump four days to walk it back and a Senate vote of 98-0 not to hand me over before that whole thing went away.

The obvious question is: Why is Trump getting along with Putin so well? I have my own theories about Trump. First of all, there is all this stuff that they have compromising material on him. What we have learned about Trump is that nothing compromises him. He is un-compromisable. He is un-blackmailable. There doesn't seem to be anything that he does—as he said, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

I also don't believe this theory that Trump was lent money by Russians and therefore he was beholden to them because Trump has been lent money by almost every financial institution in the United States and defaulted on them, and he didn't feel accountable to them, so why should he feel accountable to some no-name Russian?

My theory on Trump is that he is like a maître d' at a fancy restaurant. A high roller walks in, and all of a sudden he clears out a table meant for somebody else because he wants to get a big tip at the end of the meal. So Trump loves Mohammad bin Salman, loves Putin, and loves Xi because they are all high rollers and potentially something good can come financially to him at some point in time. That is just how he operates.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I will leave that at that.

Trump was one of the big purveyors of this idea of "fake news," so I want to turn to a question about misinformation, especially against you. We were talking about the physical threats against you, but there are also credibility threats against you, which I think are also important because that has to do with your personhood and the importance of your name. I was particularly struck by the movie that was made and shown at the Newseum. As a First Amendment advocate that part of your story was shocking to me. Could you share that story, what happened after, and how you are protecting your name?

BILL BROWDER: As I mentioned the Russians in 2016 were running around Washington trying to keep Magnitsky's name off the Global Magnitsky Act, and one of the ways that they wanted to achieve that goal was to say that Magnitsky was a crook and that Bill Browder was a crook and totally a liar for telling the whole Magnitsky story. In order to buttress this lobbying campaign that they did, the Russians got a movie made by a relatively well-known documentarian who had done previously anti-Putin movies.

So they get this guy, whose name is Andrei Nekrasov, to do a movie about me, where the premise of the movie was that I made up the whole Magnitsky story, that it is just a lie from top to bottom, that Sergei Magnitsky wasn't a whistleblower, that he wasn't murdered, that he was a financial criminal, and that the whole purpose of the Magnitsky story was just to shield my financial crimes and to defame the Putin regime. He was not a bad filmmaker in the sense that it was all very high production value. If you didn't know any facts that contradicted it, if you were coming in cold and watching it, you would think, Something's wrong here.

He started going around the world trying to show this in various Parliaments where the Magnitsky Act was being debated. He tried showing it in the European Parliament, and the European Parliament—after we sent legal letters saying you are basically lying from top to bottom and everyone involved in this is going to have problems—decided not to show it in the European Parliament or on French, German, Finnish, and other national television stations.

They got to the United States, and they came up with a beautiful idea. I have to hand it to them. You have to compliment your adversaries when they deserve it. They called up the Newseum, which is the "museum of free speech," and booked a room to show the movie at the Newseum. We wrote to the Newseum and said, "This movie is full of lies." Sergei Magnitsky's mother wrote to the Newseum, saying "Don't show this movie." Their back got up by everybody trying to tell them not to show this movie, so they became a defender of a Russian propaganda film because they were like the museum of free speech.

I probably shouldn't have been so concerned about this movie in the first place because when they finally showed it it was so shocking, upsetting, and angering to the people who were in the audience that they did the work for me of basically discrediting it. The next day reviews came out in The Washington Post saying, "Russian Propaganda Fails in Washington" and other things like that. But it was remarkable to me how much money was invested in this whole operation. To make a major documentary movie was not a cheap endeavor, and to hire U.S. PR firms to lobby it, rent rooms, and do all this kind of stuff was a big endeavor for them, and the purpose of this was to try to defame me and try to ruin my credibility.

They didn't have to prove that I was somehow bad. All they had to do was plant a seed of doubt, and then people, particularly in the lawmaking process, say: "You know, it's too complicated. I don't know who's right, who's wrong. We don't want to get involved." That was their intention.

We fought back hard and successfully, and their plan didn't work. I am pretty good at fighting back, but if this had happened to someone who wasn't battle-scarred from years and years of fighting with these people it could have easily succeeded.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I will go to another question as we're coming to our last ten minutes. I encourage our audience to send in questions. What is next for you? Where are you pursuing new Acts in new countries? Do you have new targets? Are you moving on to closing the money laundering loopholes? Where are you going next?

BILL BROWDER: Yes, yes, and yes. In order for the Magnitsky Act to truly work, we have to close off the access to all rule-of-law, property rights, civilized countries to dirty money. So we have the European Union, we have the United States, so 27 countries in the European Union, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, but there are still a few countries that are safe places to keep your money. Japan doesn't have a Magnitsky Act. They should. New Zealand amazing doesn't have a Magnitsky Act. They should. I think South Korea to a lesser extent. Switzerland doesn't have a Magnitsky act, and we are working hard on them. The Swiss are a real tough nut to crack.

Also within Europe the European Union has a Magnitsky Act, but it requires unanimity of all EU countries, and there are a bunch of corrupt ones like Hungary that are working on behalf of Putin. I am working on individual Magnitsky Acts in EU Member States. For example, the Czech Republic now has draft legislation that has been sponsored by the foreign minister there. We think it is going to happen soon, and I am hoping to get a lot of individual EU Member States to do it themselves so that we can plug the loopholes if Orbán from Hungary or one of these other not-so-great European leaders tries to veto sanctions. That is one of the big projects.

The second big project is to make sure that the Magnitsky Acts are used properly. Governments generally don't like to sanction people, but sanctioning people for human rights abuses is kind of a no-brainer, and you can still do diplomacy and sanction people at the same time. We have seen that with Russia. Before Putin invaded, back in the day plenty of secretaries of state were talking to Lavrov while we were sanctioning their people, and I think that could happen with China and other places.

My hope is that instead of having 500-some odd people on the U.S. Global Magnitsky list that there are like 20,000, and it becomes a high-probability event that if you are a dictator doing terrible things to your people that you are going to end up becoming persona non grata in the world financial system. If that is the case, then we have created a very strong countermeasure to human rights abuses and kleptocracy.

TATIANA SERAFIN: How can we get a younger generation more involved in this? I am asking for advice for my students. A lot of the characters in your book are I will use the word "seasoned." How do we get younger people involved and caring when there is so much to care about in the world with so many other things going on? How do you grab their attention? How can we continue this to the next generation because I think that is also what it is going to take?

BILL BROWDER: It's a great question. I get invited a lot to give speeches about my experience, my book, and so on, and I always accept the invitations to go to schools and universities because it is just so important to do exactly what you said, which is to touch the next set of leaders of the world, the future leaders of the world.

It's part of a long process, which is to sensitize people that dictatorship—in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe we live charmed lives. We are allowed to say what we think, we are allowed to vote, and we are allowed to criticize the government, but most of the world doesn't live that way, and most people don't understand how pernicious that is and how horrible it is for people who live in countries where you really have no say in anything. The more people can understand that the more people will look at the labels on their clothes and not buy clothes made in China if the Chinese government is doing this type of stuff. For that everybody needs to understand that there are a lot of countries out there doing a lot of terrible things to their citizens, and we shouldn't tolerate it. It should not be acceptable.

Part of that comes from education. Part of that comes from our leaders. If our leaders excuse the behavior of Chinese, Iranian, or whatever regimes, or put up with it or tolerate it, then why would other people do differently? It is a much longer answer than we can handle in the last ten minutes of this conversation, but it is all about allowing it to go on. If you put up barriers to bad behavior, if you create consequences for bad behavior, people tend to behave less badly.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Is there a goal to globalize this even further? We have spent a lot of time talking about the West, which as you say is a little bit charmed, but we have entire continents that we did not discuss today. I know we only have a few minutes left, but is there a role—I am going to bring it back to the United Nations because I am sitting here in New York and we have the General Assembly coming in causing traffic and other things—that we can take at a multinational level within multinational institutions to bring it all together?

BILL BROWDER: The creation of the United Nations was a wonderful, great idea, and it has been so bastardized. The United Nations is the last place to do this type of thing. Here we are looking at a possible nuclear catastrophe at Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine, and the Russians have a veto so that the United Nations really can't do anything. It can't even issue a statement about it. You have Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and all sorts of other countries on the UN Human Rights Council. The United Nations is no longer fit for purpose.

Yes, there is probably some new gathering of a "coalition of the winning," of rule-of-law democracies, who could get together and put pressure and create values, but the United Nations definitely doesn't fall into that. It's a sad verdict because the United Nations was set up with such a noble mission at the very beginning.

TATIANA SERAFIN: There was a question here. It is a big question, but it refers back to the beginning of our conversation, so I think it is a nice way to round it out: "Any advice on what we can do to maintain institutions in our democracies to prevent becoming a kleptocracy?"

BILL BROWDER: Everybody was so worried about America going the wrong way during the Trump era and that he was chiseling away at all these institutions, and he was trying certainly, but when I was hearing all this I was saying to myself: No journalists have been arrested in the United States for criticizing the government. No politicians have been put in jail for having a contrary position to the administration.

You may have judges' decisions you don't agree with, but the courts were not being bribed or usurped in any way, and the American people ended up voting and replacing one leader with another. It was not a smooth transition of power and it was not completely peaceful. Yes, there were some real attempts being made to weaken institutions, but it is nothing like I have seen in Russia or any other country, and I think that America is very robust.

Here in the United Kingdom two days ago we had Boris Johnson submitting his resignation and Liz Truss showing up. There was no problem. It all looks very fractious and annoying, and people say lots of things that we don't agree with, and so on, but we are so privileged and the institutions pretty much work. Yes, there are people who don't want them to work, but I am not nearly as pessimistic about the United States falling apart and becoming a dictatorship in the way that people are saying. There was a challenge, and the institution stood up to the challenge.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I would like to leave off on that positive note. I want to remind our audience that the book we are talking about today is Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath by Bill Browder. It is an amazing book. I really enjoyed it obviously, and I look forward to your next one and our next Book Talk.

BILL BROWDER: I hope I don't have enough material for another book, but we'll see. Thank you very much for a great conversation. I really enjoyed it.


NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you for joining us.

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