Bsick Browder was on his way to breakfast at his hotel in Madrid when two men in shirts reading “Policia Nacional” suddenly approached him and took him into custody on a Russian arrest warrant.
Browder, a financier who had once been the largest foreign investor in Russia, had long been a thorn in the side of Moscow before being detained that day in May 2018. Years earlier, Browder had discovered that many of the companies he had invested in, was robbed by oligarchs and corrupt officials. Unwilling to let this scam go unchallenged, Browder, as described in his 2015 bestseller Red message, decided to fight back. He hired a local lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky, who helped Browder uncover a multi-million dollar tax fraud involving Russian officials that went all the way up to President Vladimir Putin. Anger over the revelations, the Kremlin even accused Magnitsky of fraud. He was detained and eventually murdered in prison in 2009.
Horrified by what had happened, Browder publicized the case and lobbied for what became known as the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law that allows the freezing of assets belonging to Russian human rights violators. In retaliation, the Russian government brought Browder to justice in absentia, found him guilty of tax evasion, and issued what is known as an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest. Although several of these messages were eventually rejected by Interpol, that did not stop the Spanish police from trying to arrest him on yet another arrest warrant in Madrid that day. It was possibly the scariest moment of Browder’s life.
“When they pushed me in the back of the police car, I started thinking that it might not be real police officers at all, but Russian kidnappers,” Browder told The Daily Beast. “I imagined that they might just buy some uniforms and steal a police car and would drive me to a runway out of town, pick me up on a private plane and take me to Moscow when they would kill me, as they did my lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. ”
Fortunately for Browder, none of this happened. As described in his new book, Freezing order, the arrest warrant was once again declared invalid by Interpol – they have all been rejected for being of a political nature – and Browder was released from custody. “What saved me was Twitter,” Browder says in the book. “My tweets [which he had been able to send while in custody] had generated hundreds of phone calls to Interpol and the Spanish authorities, who quickly realized the mess they had entered into. “
But that has not stopped the death threats, warnings of kidnapping and ongoing Russian harassment, including being prosecuted in absentia on two occasions, which, Browder told The Daily Beast, is “much like living in a war zone. “You’re insensitive to it. I’ve been living under threat from Russia for 12 years, and it’s physically impossible to be on high alert all that time.”
“I do not drink tea with Russian strangers.”
The fact is, though, that Freezing order is more frightening than any Stephen King novel. It is a devastating primer on state crime and its impact on one human being. Browder’s book piles on details in detail about illegal Russian state activity – not just economic crime, but the numerous murders and poisonings of its critics. It also pursues a number of other stories: how Browder has managed to survive all these years without being murdered; how bankers and lawyers in the West enable Russian crimes by laundering money and setting up offshore accounts; and the seemingly endless corruption of the Russian government, which has only gotten worse under Putin.
“During the Soviet era, there was a famous saying, ‘If you did not steal from the state, you stole from your family,'” Browder told The Daily Beast. “This culture of corruption was so ingrained that everyone assumes that if one has power, it would be irrational not to use it to steal everything one could. Unfortunately, every time a new leader comes in, they just fall for it. stereotype instead of trying to reform the country. “
Browder estimates that since Putin came to power, dirty money moved through Western banks has amounted to $ 1 trillion or more. Which makes the fact that the Magnitsky law has now become law in 34 countries – and has been used against everyone from Saudi assassins to Myanmar generals – a real problem for Russia and its oligarchs. In fact, so much so that at a summit in 2018, when Trump asked Putin if he would extradite 12 Russian officials for US crimes, the Russian leader’s response was that America should retaliate, saying “for example, we can educate Mr. Browder. in this particular case. “
It did not happen. Still, Trump gave an initially enthusiastic response: “I think it’s an incredible offer,” he said, to which he later went back. Additionally, there was the fact that members of Trump’s entourage – Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort – had met with a former Russian counterintelligence officer and a Russian lawyer to discuss the Magnitsky Act. So it does not seem like an exaggeration when Browder states in the book that “the Magnitsky law was not only the driving force behind Putin’s official policy towards the West, but also behind his bold intervention in the US political process.”
It is therefore no surprise that Browder has now hired bodyguards to protect him, varies his daily routine and has moved his entire calendar to hard copy so it cannot be hacked. When asked by The Daily Beast about other methods he uses to stay safe, Browder, who was born and educated in the United States but is now a British citizen, understandably refuses to go into detail, but said: “The one thing , I can say is that I never fall into habits that can be exploited.I also do not drink tea with Russian strangers, “a reference to the murder of the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, who drank tea with polonium-210 in a hotel in London.
Browder does not believe that this scourge of Russian theft will disappear immediately, and he does not support the adoption of new banking laws, but instead calls for “changes in law enforcement.”
“Currently, there are very few consequences for the Western enablers of Russian corruption. The banks can launder billions of dollars and nothing will happen to them,” he said. “If these people started being sent to prison for these crimes, it would create a new calculation of risk / reward, and I bet many of them would choose not to get involved. “
Of course, Vladimir Putin has a lot more on his mind these days than money laundering and Browders comes and goes, even though Browder says the harassment continues. But if nothing else, the author of Freezing order may at this time be one of the foremost authorities in the internal workings of the Russian autocracy. And as for Browder, Putin is certainly not crazy, no matter what other commentators may think.
“My analysis is that he acts very rationally on the basis of his own corrupt values. He has been a dictator for 22 years and has stolen hundreds of billions from the Russian state. “After a while, that loss creates difficulties all over the country, and there is a very real likelihood that people will get up and overthrow him because they are hungry and poor,” Browder said. “Putin understands this and even saw the writing on the wall. He could not just sit there waiting to be overthrown, so he did what most dictators do when they are afraid of losing power: He started a war.”