Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Can a Major World Power Really Be This Bad?

Rampant fraud, theft, violent intimidation, deceit, and corruption up to the very highest office--this is Russia today, according to author Bill Browder, who lived through it. Sadly, his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, did not. Arrested on trumped-up charges, tormented in prison to extract a false confession, Magnitsky absorbed the full and lethal wrath of the reigning thugs who would not sit by as their schemes and crimes were exposed to the public.

I can't get Browder's story, Red Notice, out of my head. His edge-of-your-seat account of the inescapable brutality of the Kremlin, and a favored handful of Russian oligarchs who control that economy, stunned me. I've been used to Russia playing the bad guy in U.S.-Russian relations, but surely they aren't so awful these days? After all, communism crumbled there decades ago, right? 

Browder tells of his heady days in Moscow in the early 1990s, where he went to take advantage of the new privatization of companies. His company, Hermitage Capital, bought up large chunks of shares, whose value proceeded to go sky high. He made a lot of money, and a lot of money for his happy clients. But in the process he ran into things that did not add up. He hit obstacles that did not make sense. And he wound up exposing fraud and theft on a scale that I could hardly comprehend. 

This is an important book because it is not about the past. It is not about the horrors of Soviet Russia, where white could be declared black and the innocent could easily be executed as guilty. This is about Russia today, a country still in the grip of corruption and deceit, from the local policemen to the man at the very top. A land where the law is no guarantee of protection or anything resembling due process. 

It is also the story of Browder's quest for justice, especially for the horrifying murder of his friend and attorney Sergei. Feeling responsible for Sergei's arrest, an arrest spawned simply by the man's association with Browder, the author dedicates himself to exposing what happened and getting the perpetrators punished.

Near the end of the book, Browder writes this from his London home:
I have to assume that there is a very real chance that Putin or members of his regime will have me killed someday. Like anyone else, I have no death wish and I have no intention of letting them kill me. I can't mention most of the countermeasures I take, but I will mention one: this book. If I'm killed, you will know who did it. When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know. So if you sympathize with this search for justice, or with Sergei's tragic fate, please share this story with as many people as you can. That simple act will keep the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky alive and go further than any army of bodyguards in keeping me safe.

How could I not write about this book? I hope you will read it.