by Roger Childs

Red NoticeRussian Name on an American Law

A ripping yarn of murky financiers, desperate investments and large sums of money… a terrible tragedy of corrupt officials, grieving friends and the murder of an honest man. I can think of no other book like it. —Observer

The Magnitsky Act

A fitting tribute to a lawyer who angered by the criminality he saw around him and was determined to do something about it. Financial Times

Sergei was a Russian lawyer who was beaten to death by guards in a prison cell in 2009. 

Sergei Magnitsky 1A tragic event, but how did it lead to Barack Obama signing a law in 2012 that bears Magnitsky’s name? 

To find out you’ll need to read an extraordinary book Red Notice: How I Became Putin’s No. 1 Enemy by Bill Browder. It is a complicated and fascinating story, but also shocking and horrific.

The make-over of Bill Browder

A dramatic, moving and thriller-like account of how Magnitsky’s death transformed Browder from hedge-fund manager to global human rights crusader. –Guardian

Bill-BrowderMuch of this amazing story is set in post-Communist Russia. Ironically the author’s father was the American Communist Party candidate in the 1936 US presidential election.  A Communist was the last thing Browder wanted to be, so he became a capitalist!

Sensing that post-communist Eastern Europe would be a great place to invest and make quick money, he started in Poland and gravitated to the big one: the former Soviet Union. Hermitage Capital Management did very well there in the 1990s and early 2000s, trading in shares.

But the more he got involved in Putin’s Russia, the more Browder became aware of the vast web of corruption, favouritism and fraud which had resulted in vast inequalities of wealth ranging from a small group of multi-billionaire oligarchs to tens of millions living in poverty.

Ultimately, the crisis involving his Russian advisers and, especially Sergei Magnitsky, turned Bill Browder into a human rights activist seeking justice.

A roller coaster ride

Reads like a classic thriller … but it’s all true, and it’s a story that needs to be told. —Lee Child

This is a warts and all story, and Browder does not hold back on writing about his ups and downs, and personal failings. He is a natural writer and the book flows along, at times at break-neck speed. There were many set-backs in his investment career and human rights advocacy, but also plenty of successes.

For example, Bill Browder and his colleagues’ ability to use the media, YouTube and films to name and shame, are textbook examples of how to fight for justice.

The review snippets scattered through this article do justice to Red Notice. This is a book people should read, to understand the corruption, exploitation, vindictiveness, and horror of Putin’s Russia.

European Court decision

The book was published in 2015, but there is a post script from August 2019. At the time the Magnitsky Law was passed, Putin was furious as it prevented a number of Russians implicated in the lawyer’s violent death from travelling to the USA. Putin claimed, ‘Nobody tortured him, he died of a heart attack.’

Not so. The European Court of Human Rights has now ruled on complaints filed by Sergei Magnitsky before he died, and by his widow and his mother, about his treatment in detention. In the words of the Washington Post, ‘The court’s judgement leaves no doubt that Magnitsky was a victim of official negligence that led to his death.’