Bill Browder never meant to become Vladimir Putin’s number one enemy.
But, as he described in a gala event for the Global Reporting Centre on June 15, the American-born financier has abandoned his business dealings, and treats his campaign against Russian corruption as a calling.
Amidst high security, Browder joined GRC Executive Director Peter Klein, Canadian Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, UBC Provost Andrew Szeri and GRC board member Dana Wolfe in a spirited evening of discussion at the Four Seasons. Before a packed crowd of sponsors and supporters of the centre, Browder discussed how he ended up attracting the rage — and fear — of one of the world’s most powerful leaders.
Over more than a decade of managing the largest foreign investment portfolio in Russia, Browder learned the landscape of the country’s business world inside and out. He regularly exposed internal corruption to foreign and domestic media, earning him the ire of the country’s notorious oligarchs— and eventually, its President.
One day, on a flight returning to Moscow from his office in London, Browder was denied entry to the country. His offices were subsequently raided. He hired Sergei Magnitsky, a dedicated and shrewd lawyer, to uncover what had happened to his business.
Magnitsky was later arrested, detained and died in Russian custody after being denied critical medical care. In response to the death of his attorney, Browder has dedicated his time to passing sanctions against the people complicit in his former attorney’s killing. He worked with Washington to pass the Magnitsky Act, which has been followed by similar laws in Canada, Europe, the Baltics and even the Caribbean.
This hasn’t improved Putin’s opinion of him. The Russian President put warrants on Browder via Interpol six times, and sent a seventh request just yesterday. Two weeks before our gala, Browder was arrested in Spain. The tweets he was able to write before his arrest, alerting media to the situation, may have saved him months in prison.
Privately, some observers have said Putin has called for Browder’s assassination.
But instead of cowing him, Putin’s crackdown has emboldened Browder. A shrewd businessman, Browder has been hitting oligarchs where it hurts — their wallets. It’s not easy being Putin’s number one enemy — but if anything makes it easier, it’s knowing that Bill Browder is also perhaps Putin’s number one problem.