Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is an enthralling memoir by Bill Browder that reads like an espionage thriller.
Bill Browder comes from a leftist family. His grandfather, Earl Browder, runs for President on the American Communist Party ticket in 1936 and 1940. He appears on the cover of Time Magazine in 1938 with the caption “Comrade Earl Browder.” Forcing depression-era America to focus on the failings of mainstream capitalism, he arguably causes most political players of the time to revise their policies leftward. Into this family comes grandson Bill Browder making the ultimate rebel move: he embraces capitalism and gets an M.B.A. from Stanford.
After getting his feet wet with his first few investment and consulting firms, he chooses to specialize in the enigmatic and virgin area: Eastern Europe. His first assignment in Poland is getting paid big consulting bucks to ultimately tell the failing bus company to lay off most of the staff – it is equally disastrous and humorous. While there, he witnesses Poland’s first-ever privatizations – the government is unloading its property and state-run businesses at a steal. The lightbulb goes off when he realizes, quicker than most investors, the demise of the Communist bloc offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get insanely rich.
In 1995, Hermitage Capital Management is born, Bill Browder moves to Moscow focusing on investments in Russia. Here begins a rollercoaster ride wildly whipsawed by the volatility of investing in the wild-wild East. By 1997, Hermitage is the best performing fund in the world, and Bill Browder is considered a financial superman and instant expert on investing in Russia. His meteoric rise (turning $25 million into $1 billion) takes a dive (down to $100 million) when Russian oligarchs begin diluting the value of shares owned by westerners. Putin is elected in 2000, in part, because he vows to clean up malfeasance by the oligarchs. At first, Browder considers him an ally, but later realizes Putin doesn’t want to clean up Russia; he just wants to redirect the bounty from the oligarchs to his KGB friends. With continued opportunistic, creative, and stealthy investing, the Hermitage fund recovers, skyrocketing to $4.5 billion. Browder is the largest foreign investor in the country. And then, in 2005, while flying back to London, Browder is detained at the Moscow airport for 15 hours and expelled from Russia with no explanation.
Browder puts up a fight. His office, those of his attorneys, as well as those of the underlying companies in his investment portfolio are raided. His Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovers a fraudulent $230 million tax scheme committed by internal officers. Those that committed the crime have him arrested, and, while in custody, he is tortured and killed.
At this point in the story, Bill Browder transforms from the mega-capitalist investor to a fervent activist seeking justice for the murder of his friend and attorney. He brings his fight to Washington and with another roller coaster “winds-of-fate” story, achieves bipartisan support for the Magnitsky Act signed into law by Barack Obama in 2012. That law bans 18 Russian officials responsible for Magnitsky’s death from entering the US and freezes their assets. Putin immediately retaliates by banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Bill Browder understands the danger he is up against. He tells the reader that if he dies a mysterious, untimely death, know this: it was Putin.
I highly recommend this riveting memoir – a tale much richer than fiction.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, December 3. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 5 to discuss Red Notice at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.