Bill Browder
Big Brains podcst

The man who fought to sanction Putin and Russian oligarchs, with Bill Browder

Businessman explains how his work on the Magnitsky Act made him country’s No. 1 enemy
Bill Browder
Big Brains podcst

Show Notes

As Vladimir Putin continues his invasion of Ukraine, Western nations have come together in unprecedented fashion to condemn his actions, in the form of economic sanctions against Putin and his Russian oligarchs. But how were these sanctions implemented so quickly, and what was the international legal infrastructure than enabled us to target the oligarch’s assets in the west? 

A major tool that Western nations have used to enact sanctions is called the Magnitsky Act. Two years ago, we interviewed the man responsible for the creation of this act: Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and a University of Chicago alum. We think it’s worth re-airing that interview in the current context to get a deeper understanding of the sanctions against Russia, Putin’s regime and how a few brave people forged a pathway to hit him where he’s weakest.

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(A version of this March 2, 2022 episode was originally posted in January 2020)



Paul Rand: The eyes of the world are on Ukraine and Russia.

Tape: Outgunned and outmanned, but Ukrainian forces are still putting up a valiant fight for their sovereign nation as Russian troops attack from land, sea and air.

Paul Rand: Western nations have come together in unanimous condemnation of Putin’s invasion of a sovereign democratic country through economic sanction and freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs.

Tape: The U.S. and allies have assembled the most extreme set of financial sanctions ever put on a G20 country.

Paul Rand: But how are the sanctions able to be implemented so quickly? And what was the international legal infrastructure that allowed the oligarchs assets to be targeted in the West? Well, it’s all thanks to two men and their incredible story.

Tape: The Magnitsky Act that is a 2012 American law, that punishes Russians who are seen to be human rights abusers. It freezes their assets and bans them from entering the United States.

Paul Rand: Two years ago, we interviewed the man responsible for the creation of the Magnitsky Act and got the story of Magnitsky himself. Given the gravity of the tragedy in Ukraine and the importance of economic sanctions being used in the West, we think it’s worth reairing that interview to get a deeper context.

Paul Rand: If you know the name Bill Browder, you probably know that he’s considered Putin’s-

Tape: Number one enemy.

Tape: Putin’s public enemy number one.

Tape: Vladimir Putin’s number one enemy.

Tape: Browder has been called Putin enemy number one.

Bill Browder: So, I mean, I am, by some people’s measurements, Putin’s number one foreign enemy.

Paul Rand: Browder was a hedge fund CEO. So how does someone like that end up in Vladimir Putin’s cross hairs?

Bill Browder: Yeah, I mean, I’ve done something which is unforgivable to him, which is that I created a law called the Magnitsky Act.

Paul Rand: The Magnitsky Act is one of the most important pieces of international legislation you’ve probably never heard of. And it’s part of the reason Browder received the U Chicago alumni professional achievement award last year. The law revolutionized the way we go after and punish international bad actors.

Tape: President Trump continues to defend his oldest son for meeting with a Russian lawyer last year.

Tape: He has said that in the meeting, the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act. That is a 2012 American law that punishes Russians who are seen to be human rights abusers.

Paul Rand: Browder details his experiences in his best selling book Red Notice. It’s a story that sounds like a Hollywood movie, except it’s all true. So what’s behind the Magnitsky Act. In what role did this famous University of Chicago alum play in getting it passed in America and advocating for it abroad?

Bill Browder:It’s all I do. I’ve given up my life as a businessman. I’m a full-time political activist, human rights activists working on getting Magnitsky Act passed in countries around the world.

Paul Rand: From the University of Chicago this is Big Brains, a podcast about pioneering research and pivotal breakthroughs that are reshaping our world. Today Bill Browder and how his fight for justice changed international politics. I’m your host, Paul Rand.

Paul Rand: Bill Browder’s story starts right here at the University of Chicago.

Bill Browder: Yes. In intense, deep roots with the University of Chicago, maybe too deep, where it felt too deep at one point in my life.

Paul Rand: His father was chair of the Mathematics Department and Browder himself attended the University’s undergraduate College.

Bill Browder: I think it was expected of me to become an academic like everybody else in my family. And in addition to my father, my Uncle Bill was a mathematician at Princeton and my Uncle Andy was a mathematician at Brown, all heads of their math departments. And so it was expected that I’d become a scientist of some sort. And so I was really the black sheep in the family. And maybe it was, might have been acceptable to be like a lowly engineer, but to be a businessman, oh my God, that was like the worst thing in the world. And so it took me a long time to regain the confidence and respect of my father after my decision to go into business.

Paul Rand: Well, I think I remember hearing in one of your Ted talks in your early forms of rebellion, one was growing an afro. What was another one that you talked about?

Bill Browder: I follow the Grateful Dead around the country.

Paul Rand: That’s quite impressive.

Bill Browder: Yeah. Yeah, it was, but none of that stuff really upset him, but becoming a businessman really did. That was just like the worst thing you could do.

Paul Rand: And that wasn’t just about not following in his father’s mathematical footsteps. It was also about communism. Browder’s grandfather was a leader in the U.S. communist party in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and has even said to have worked for Soviet intelligence recruiting spies.

Bill Browder: And I came up with this idea, which was that if my grandfather was the biggest communist in America and the Berlin wall had just come down, I’m going to try to become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.

Paul Rand: Capitalism was directly antithetical to everything his family stood for. It was the ultimate way to rebel. So in 1996, Browder started an investment company in Russia called Hermitage Capital Management.

Bill Browder: And eventually we grew to become the largest investment fund in Russia.

Paul Rand: Browder was lauded as a financial genius by Time Magazine. And in 1997, he was one of the best performing hedge fund managers in the world. Then just one year later, Russia defaulted on its bonds. It devalued its currency and Hermitage Capital took a nose dive.

Bill Browder: I lost 90% of my client’s money. And then after that, with the last 10 cents of the dollar that I had left, the oligarchs were going to swoop in and try to steal the rest.

Paul Rand: So what did you do?

Bill Browder: Well, I said to myself, the police don’t police, the regulators don’t regulate, but the one thing that I can do is to research.

Paul Rand: These oligarchs, powerful Russian businessmen, routinely skim money off the top of big companies. So Browder decided to expose it. He and his team started with one of the biggest companies in Russia, the oil giant Gazprom.

Bill Browder: And so one of the things which we did was we did a stealing analysis of Gazprom. And people often think of Russia as being a very untransparent, opaque place. And it is in certain respects, but Russia is also a country with incredible bureaucracy and all the bureaucrats collect information on everything. And so we took that information and we analyzed it and we figured out what was being stolen out of Gazprom and how they went about doing the stealing.

Paul Rand: They found that the oligarchs have stolen 9% of Gazprom’s assets, billions of dollars. Browder fed that information to American journalists who jumped on the story and sparked an international scandal.

Bill Browder: And in the end, it created such a public scandal that Putin stepped in and fired the CEO who was doing all the stealing and replaced him with a new guy whose job it was not to steal assets. He could steal other things, just not assets. And then the day after the new guy came on, the share price went up 138%.

Paul Rand: Now at this point you had thought Putin would be okay with this, is this right?

Bill Browder: Well, at this point, I didn’t know what Putin was, but he appeared to like what I was doing. Why did he like it? There’s an expression, your enemy’s enemy is your friend. And the oligarchs who were stealing from me, stealing money from me, right? They were stealing power from him.

Paul Rand: Understood.

Bill Browder: He had come to become President of Russia, but he was really only President of the Presidential Administration of Russia because the oligarchs had privatized the power of the Presidency by bribing police, bribing army generals. Everybody was doing something for somebody else. Platoons in the army were building roads for the oligarchs and police officers were finding stashes of cocaine in the trunks of competitors to oligarchs and arresting them. Everyone was doing something for the wrong reason.

Paul Rand: And so it was going well for a while. And every time I would publicize a scandal involving one of his enemies, he would come down like a ton of bricks on his enemies. And it all worked well. The trouble was that Vladimir Putin wasn’t doing this because he wanted to clean up Russia. He was doing this because he wanted to destroy the oligarchs.

Paul Rand: After Gazprom, Browder and his team in Hermitage did this again and again. They investigated the oligarchs that ran Russia’s national electricity company, a savings bank and several other oil companies. And they exposed the theft.

Bill Browder: And that worked for a while until it didn’t.

Paul Rand: Putin wanted to consolidate power. And in October 2003, he got his moment. He arrested the richest man in Russia.

Bill Browder: A man named Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Paul Rand: And threw him in jail.

Bill Browder: And in Russia, when you go on trial, you sit in a cage and they allowed the television cameras to film Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia sitting in a cage. Now imagine you’re the 17th richest person in Russia and you see a guy far better, far richer, far more powerful than you sitting in a cage. What’s your natural reaction? You don’t want to sit in that cage yourself. And so in June of 2004, after Khodorkovsky was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison, these other oligarchs went to Putin one by one and said, “Vladimir, what do we have to do so we don’t sit in a cage?” And Putin said, “It’s real simple, 50%.” And this is not 50% for the Russian government or 50% for the Presidential Administration of Russia. This is 50% for Vladimir Putin. At that moment in time, he became the richest man in the world.

Paul Rand: Putin was now the central oligarch Browder was going after. He was naming and shaming Putin’s own financial interests. It didn’t go over very well.

Bill Browder: I was flying back to Russia from London on a weekend trip. I arrived at Sheremeyevo Airport, and I’ve been going back and forth so many times that I had this VIP lounge card. And I go to the VIP lounge, I give them my passport and what should have been like a three-minute thing, an hour later they still haven’t given my passport back.

Paul Rand: So something’s not right.

Bill Browder: I’m starting to make a fuss. I have a driver there who’s also starting to figure out what’s going on. And all of a sudden, four heavily armed border guards come into the VIP lounge. They grab me and they frog march me down to the little jail in the airport. And I don’t know whether I’ve been arrested and I’m going to go to Siberia. The next flight back to London was at 11 o’clock in the morning. And so I couldn’t sleep all night. And I was having all sorts of dark thoughts about where this was going to go, but I figured at maybe 9:45, they just probably need to take me if they want to get me, process my papers or whatever they do in the situation like this.

Bill Browder: And so I kept banging on the bars, are you going to deport me? You better get me going and they completely ignored me. And by 10:30, I figured they’re not going to have enough time to do the processing or whatever they do in a deportation. And I’m convinced, my adrenaline is really pumping through my veins. I figure I’m going to Siberia. And it was at 10:47, they finally come to get me and they just stuck me, they just marched me onto an Aeroflot plane, stuck me in a middle seat, in economy, and off I went.

Paul Rand: At this point, Browder was shocked. He didn’t know what specifically set Putin off or how else the Russians might come after him.

Bill Browder: And there’s two places they could go after me. One is that I had a lot of people who they could arrest, my employees…

Paul Rand: And still in Russia.

Bill Browder: In Russia. And we had a lot of assets in Russia. And so I had organized an emergency evacuation of my employees. I got them and their family members out and we all got to London. We got into some temporary office space and then we quietly sold every last security we held in Russia. We were able to get all of our money out.

Paul Rand: Okay. Remarkable.

Bill Browder: And people say, “Why did they let you get your money out?” And the answer is that they’re evil, but they’re highly inefficient at exercising their evil.

Paul Rand: OK.

Bill Browder: And the only thing I kept in Russia was a small office and a one secretary. And it was there in the hopes that maybe one day, this whole thing would blow over.

Paul Rand: Wishful thinking.

Bill Browder: 18 months after I was expelled, I got a frantic call from the secretary in the Moscow office. And she says, “Bill, Bill, there’s 25 police officers here raiding the office. What should I do?” And I’d never been in a situation like this. And so the only thing I could think of was to call my lawyer. I had an American lawyer in Moscow. So I called the lawyer and I say, “I’ve got 25 police officers raiding my office. What should I do?” And he said, “I don’t know. I’ve got 25 police officers raiding my office, looking for your documents.”

Paul Rand: They wanted the stamps, seals and certificates for Browder’s investment company. When they found them, they seized them.

Bill Browder: And the next thing we know, we no longer own our investment holding companies. Using the documents seized by the police, they’d been fraudulently reregistered out of our name, into the name of a man who is a convicted killer, who was let out of jail early by the police, presumably to put his name on these documents. So at this point, I’m terrified. I’m terrified. Not for economic reasons. Look, our money is safe, right? But if the police are working with murderers to steal our companies, what else are they going to do? So I went and hired the smartest lawyer I knew in Russia. It was a 35-year-old young man named Sergei Magnitsky.

Paul Rand: Sergei Magnitsky, the namesake of what would become the Magnitsky Act. That’s coming up after the break.

Paul Rand: If you’re getting a lot out of the important research that’s shared on Big Brains, there’s another University of Chicago Podcast Network show that you should check out. It’s called Capitalisn’t. Capitalisn’t uses the latest economic thinking to zero in on the ways that Capitalism is and more often isn’t working today. From the debate over how to distribute a vaccine to the morality of a wealth tax. Capitalisn’t clearly explains how capitalism can go wrong and what we can do about it. Listen to Capitalisn’t, part of the University of Chicago podcast network.

Paul Rand: If you like Big Brains, there’s another science podcast you should check out. PNAS Science Sessions from the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences features short in depth conversations with the world’s top scientific researchers. In less time than it takes to a drink a cup of coffee, you can learn about advances such as aquaculture techniques for coral reef restoration. Coral reefs occupy less than 2% of the sea floor, but they are home to more than 25% of marine species worldwide. In the last 30 years, one fifth to one half of all reefs have been lost. Now researchers are experimenting with 3D printing to print coral skeletons out of natural materials, offering a biometric alternative for planting coral micro fragments. Listen and subscribe to Science Sessions to hear more about their coral reef series on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Paul Rand: When the investment company assets were seized, Browder turned to his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky.

Bill Browder: I said, “Sergei, could you help me figure this thing out?” And he said, “Yes.” And so he went out and started to investigate and he came back and he said, “I figured out there was two parts of the scam. The first part was they wanted to steal all of your assets, but they got to them too late.”

Paul Rand: And you”d already liquidated them.

Bill Browder: Yeah. The second part he said they did succeed. And the second part was something that was truly cynical. So when we were selling all of our securities, after I was kicked out and liquidating everything, we had a huge profit. We had a billion dollars of profit and we paid to the Russian government, $230 million of capital gains tax. And what Sergei had discovered was that the people who stole our companies went back to the tax authorities and they filed an amended tax return, which said that there was a mistake made in the previous year’s tax filing that these companies didn’t earn a billion dollars, they earned zero. Therefore, the $230 million of taxes was paid in error.

Paul Rand: So the Russians who had taken over the company applied for a tax refund, it was the largest tax refund in Russian history.

Bill Browder: Sergei and I were convinced this must be a rogue operation. Because Putin, he’s a nationalist, right? He’s not some guy who, he wouldn’t allow nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to be stolen from his own country. That seemed inconceivable.

Paul Rand: Browder thought Putin may allow money to be stolen from the company, but why would he allow money to be stolen from his government?

Bill Browder: So we wrote criminal complaints to the heads of all the major law enforcement agencies in Russia. I went to the press and then Sergei went to the Russian State Investigative Committee and gave sworn testimony about the involvement of the police officers in the fraud. And we sat back and we waited for the good guys to get the bad guys. Turns out in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, there are no good guys.

Bill Browder: Five weeks after Sergei testified at the Russian State Investigative Committee, the same individuals he testified against came to his home on the 24th of November, 2008, and arrested him, put him in pretrial detention, where he was then tortured to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates in eight beds and left the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no window panes. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor where the sewage would bubble up.

Bill Browder: And the purpose of all this was to get him to withdraw his testimony against the corrupt police officers and get him to sign a false confession to say that he stole the 230 million and he did so on my instruction. And they figure here’s this tax lawyer, works in a fancy ...

Paul Rand: He’ll cave.

Bill Browder: Of course, he’ll cave. They looked at him and said within a week, but they completely misjudged Sergei Magnitsky. Sergei, for him his integrity, his honesty was more important than the physical pain they were subjecting him to and he refused and the torture and the pressure got worse and worse and worse. And six months into this, he started to develop terrible pains in his stomach. He ended up losing 40 pounds. He was diagnosed as having pancreatitis and gallstones, and he was prescribed an operation, which was supposed to happen on the 1st of August, 2009. A week before the operation, they came to him again and they again asked him to sign a false confession. And again, he refused. In retaliation for that they abruptly moved him to a maximum security prison called Butyrka. Butyrka is considered to be one of the worst and most horrible prisons in Russia and most significantly for Sergei, there was no medical facilities there.

Bill Browder: And at Butyrka, his health completely broke down. He went into a terrible downward spiral. Ear piercing pain, and they refused him all medical attention. Sergei wrote and his lawyers wrote 20 different requests for medical attention. Every one of those requests was either ignored or denied in writing. On the night of November 16th, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky into critical condition. On that night, the Butyrka authorities didn’t want to have responsibility for him anymore. And so they put him in an ambulance and sent him to a different prison across town that had a medical wing. But when he arrived at the different prison, instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell. They chained him to a bed and eight riot guards with rubber batons, came into the cell and beat him until he died.

Paul Rand: Sergei was 37 years old and he left behind a wife and two children. Browder found out the next morning, he was heartbroken and he knew that somehow he was responsible. He says if Sergei hadn’t been his lawyer, he’d still be alive today.

Bill Browder: And that burden of guilt has driven me for 10 years to put aside everything else that I’m doing and to use all of my time, all of my resources and all of my energies to go after the people who killed him and make sure they face justice.

Paul Rand: Easier said than done, Putin exonerated everyone involved in Sergei’s murder. So Browder came up with another idea.

Bill Browder: Which was, we can’t get justice in Russia, we should get justice in the West. But the trouble was the West didn’t have any mechanisms for justice. And so I went to Washington and I told the story of Sergei and what they did to him, to a democratic Senator from Maryland named Benjamin Cardin and a Republican Senator from Arizona, John McCain. And I said, “Can we freeze their assets and ban their visas?” And they said, “Yes, we can.” And that became known as the Magnitsky Act. And at first it started out just as a piece of legislation for Sergei Magnitsky. But as soon as it was launched, other victims started coming forward from Russia and saying, “My God, you found the Achilles heel of the Putin regime. This is what they care about, their money abroad. And can you possibly sanction the people who kill my husband, my brother, my sister, my aunt?” And after about a dozen of these calls, these senators realized there were something much bigger than Sergei Magnitsky. And they added 65 words to the law, which would sanction all Russian human rights abusers.

Paul Rand: This is what’s made Browder Putin’s number one enemy.

Bill Browder: And Vladimir Putin went out of his mind because the next thing he did was he banned the adoption of Russian orphans by American families. And you have to understand how heinous that is. The orphans that the Russians were putting up for adoption were the sick ones. They didn’t give the Americans the healthy orphans. The Americans came year after year in the thousands and took these babies back and nursed them to health. In Russia, the orphans often die. And so by refusing to allow them to be adopted by American families, Vladimir Putin was sentencing them to death.

Bill Browder: Vladimir Putin was so determined to repeal the Magnitsky Act that on June 9, 2016, he sent an emissary named Natalia Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with one simple request, if he became President to repeal the Magnitsky Act.

Paul Rand: These Russian human rights abusers have all been financially blacklisted. But since then, the Act has been expanded to include any human rights abuser, regardless of country. Here’s how it works.

Bill Browder: If they want to sanction you get put on something called the OFAC sanctions list. And the moment that you get added to the sanctions list, every bank in the world closes your account. It doesn’t even matter if it’s American bank or a Chilean bank or Dubai bank or Korean bank. That bank doesn’t want to be in trouble with the U.S. Treasury. And they get in big trouble if they do business for somebody on the sanctions list, they get fined by the Treasury three times the amount of business. Let’s say that you have a million dollars in a bank account, you’re a sanctioned individual and your bank moves that money to another bank account. Let’s say it’s going from a Swiss bank to a Russian bank. If the Treasury finds out, they fine the bank $3 million and what does the bank make off that wire transfer, $150.

            And so the moment you’re on the sanctions list, you become a financial non person in the world, a financial leper, a financial pariah, and you can’t do business anywhere. And it ruins the business of any person on the sanctions list. And so everybody hates it more than anything.

Paul Rand: There are about 150 people around the world who are sanctioned because of the Magnitsky Act, but Browder says thousands more live in fear that they will be sanctioned.

Bill Browder: It’s devastating. This is the new technology for going after bad guys. And you can’t imagine the number of people who are absolutely living in terror right now about possibly being sanctioned is in the tens of thousands. The worst people on the planet are all absolutely terrified that they’re going to get caught and sanctioned by the U.S. Government. And the reason why this is so valuable is that all of a sudden, it used to be that they could just brazenly act with impunity and do anything they wanted to and do all sorts of terrible things to people without any consequence. Now, all of a sudden there’s a consequence.

Paul Rand: And the Magnitsky Act has turned into a global phenomenon. Similar laws have been passed in the UK, Canada, and others.

Bill Browder: Now it’s not just about me and Sergei. It’s not just about Russia. It’s about everybody. And so the Uighurs in China who are being who are being rounded up in concentration camps, the people in Hong Kong, the Venezuelan dissidents that are being the opposition, that are being gunned down in Nicaragua, in Myanmar. This whole situ with Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia and other journalists in Saudi Arabia who have been murdered. Everybody now has a tool to go after their bad guys. And so I have people from all over the world that are advocating to add people to the countries that have Magnitsky lists, and to push for Magnitsky legislation in countries that don’t have it yet.

Paul Rand: Tell me, so you spend a good majority of your time still working to promote the Magnitsky Act, is that right?

Bill Browder: That’s all I do. I’ve given up my life as a businessman.

Paul Rand: Okay.

Bill Browder: I’m a full-time political activist, human rights activist, working on getting the Magnitsky Act passed in countries around the world.

Paul Rand: I bet you never thought you’d turned out to be a global activist, did you?

Bill Browder: Never in my wildest dreams.

Paul Rand: Yeah.

Bill Browder: It’s life, that life hands out different circumstances, it deals you different cards and you play those cards.

Paul Rand: And are you keeping up with Magnitsky’s widow and kids?

Bill Browder: Yeah, absolutely. She works in the office on the campaign with us.

Paul Rand: And based in London. OK.

Bill Browder: Son is about to go to university. He’s finished his education after all this trauma in London. And he’s now a very talented young artist. They’re safe. I mean, it’s obviously, no one can ever bring back their-

Paul Rand: Their dad.

Bill Browder: Yeah. But Sergei Magnitsky’s life, his legacy was this legislation.

Paul Rand: Okay. Do you see this as an ongoing lifelong goal, to continue this? Or do you see there’s a point where you say, “Okay, I’ve accomplished what I set out plus to accomplish.”?

Bill Browder: There’s so much evil going on in the world that I’ll never accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but this is a righteous mission. It’s something I feel very strongly and passionately and good about. I mean, the reasons for why it started were horrific, the tragedy is horrific, but it’s pushed me into an area of great meaning. And of course, fighting over justice.

Paul Rand: Right.

Bill Browder: Is infinitely more satisfying than fighting over money.

Paul Rand: Browder has been all over news the last few days, providing insights into how he believes the West’s economic war against Putin is going. Here he is on PBS being interviewed by Walter Isaacson.

Bill Browder: Well, there’s a whole range of sanctions from sanctioning the central bank to a number of state enterprises right up to the oligarchs. So, in terms of what affects Putin the most is not necessarily the ones that do the most damage to the economy. What affects Putin the most is the ones that does damage to the oligarchs. These multi-billionaire individuals that we see on the Forbes list and the ones sailing around in their yachts. And the reason that Putin cares of about that most is because they hold his money for him. And so if we’re trying to make a direct statement to Vladimir Putin and go after his own personal interests, that’s the one that really stings him.

Walter Isaacson: Can we seize their yachts or their apartments where you are in London?

Bill Browder: Absolutely. And now after what Putin has done with Ukraine, that is the plan. I’m actually calling in from the British Parliament right now, where I’ve spent the morning discussing specifics on how to go about doing that. And there’s now appetite to do that for the first time in 20 years. The British are going to seize oligarch assets. And I think the Europeans will, and the Americans will, and this is a total game changer when it comes to affecting Vladimir Putin’s calculations.

Paul Rand: But Browder says that Western countries need to go even further.

Walter Isaacson: So you are in Parliament right now discussing possible things. Have you pointed out the homes in London that the oligarchs own and is there something that the British government could do?

Bill Browder: I have, but more importantly, I have asked them, there’s a piece of legislation coming through called the Economic Crimes Bill, which is happening imminently. And I told the government and members of parliament that there needs to be a provision in the Economic Crimes Bill that also includes the Western enablers of the oligarchs. All of the bankers, accountants, lawyers, trustees, so that they are required to come forward with information on where the oligarch’s assets are because some of these things are obvious and some of them are hidden and all this stuff should be available to the government so that those assets can be frozen and seized.

Paul Rand: The economic sanctions are going to hurt the global economy. There’s no doubt, but according to Browder, any and all costs are worth paying. Here he is on Fox Business.

Tape: Will he press the nuclear button, Bill? You know him, you’ve been inside his mind.

Bill Browder: He has the capacity to do almost anything. And he really is the most dangerous man in the world. And that’s why we have to do everything possible to stop him. We’ve got to raise the price of this in every way possible because this man truly could lead us to the end of the world. He’s a terrible, terrible man with absolutely no regard for human life and all he cares about is his own survival.

Tape: Big Brains is a production of the University of Chicago Podcast Network. If you like what you heard, please leave us a rating and review. The is hosted by Paul M. Rand and produced by me, Matt Hoddapp and Leah Cesring. Thanks for listening.


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