Audiobook Review: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder
Audiobook Review: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder (published by Simon & Schuster)
This fascinating non-fiction book is more like a political thriller and at some points I had to remind myself that some of the unthinkable things it described actually happened in real-life. It follows the story of Bill Browder, an American financier who, due to personal reasons, was intrigued by Russia and decided to set up business there in the 90s, making a small fortune on his investments when the Soviet Union collapsed. But his success came at a cost and he managed to piss off lots of oligarchs by exposing their corrupt practices, and then cause friction all the way up the chain to Vladimir Putin.
Red Notice details Bill’s early life, his academic and communist family and why he was determined to be a capitalist. It describes his time at Stanford Business School and his subsequent finance jobs before setting his sights on Russia. I found this part of the story fascinating, especially learning of how Bill Browder made some savvy investments in Poland and then how he set up an office in Moscow, making millions during the mass privatisation after the fall of the Soviet Union, and by instigating shareholder activism with a number of Russian businesses (e.g. oil company Gazprom) whose management brazenly skimmed money and sold assets for personal gain.
For a while his Russian business flourished and he continued to expose corruption, until 2005 when he was blacklisted, barred from the country and named a ‘threat to national security’. Next comes the mind-boggling part of his story. Corrupt tax officials and police officers instigated a raid on his offices, stole information about his business and then proceeded to sell it and buy it again, prompting a tax ‘refund’ to the new owners of $230 million. Browder, now based in the UK, and his team of Russian lawyers uncovered the corruption and identified the officials who had effectively stolen $230mil from the Russian people.
One of the tax attorneys who testified against the officials, Sergei Magnitsky, was jailed and tortured to death, and prompted Browder to start a human rights campaign for justice, eventually getting the Magnitsky Act signed into law by Barack Obama that banned the officials involved in the corruption and Sergei’s death, from US visas and freezing their US assets.
This pissed off Putin who went on to charge Browder in absentia of tax evasion and issued a ‘red notice’ to Interpol, which demanded the arrest and extradition of Browder to Russia. Putin also retaliated by stopping the adoption of Russian orphans by US parents (seriously!).
This is such an intriguing and eye-opening story and one which I’ll think about for years to come. The audiobook narrator was excellent and I was fully engaged from start to finish. My only quibble was that I wanted to know what Bill Browder did after he left Russia, there were hints as to him setting up investments in places like Dubai etc, but the second half of the story focused on Browder’s fight for justice for Sergei (and rightly so) but I’m just nosey and would’ve liked to have heard what Browder did next!
My rating: 4/5
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