Politics,  Spare time

A ripper book and a new podcast provide scary insights into Russian politics

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is a page turning must read, based on a true story, that also provides insight into the political cesspit of Putin’s Russia. Plus there’s a link to today’s White House.

A friend of mine put me on to the book (hat tip Jim Love) which was written by US-born hedge fund manager Bill Browder and admittedly was released a couple of years ago. It tells the story of how he set up a fund in post-Soviet Moscow and made a killing buying shares in newly privatized companies that were trading at a fraction of the value of their western counterparts.

When he discovered the companies he’d invested in were being systematically plundered by their management he exposed them in the Russian media, and initially got some unexpected help from a little known bureaucrat called Vladimir Putin. Eventually however he wore out his usefulness, and his welcome, and was kicked out of Russia.

Not long after, police raided his Moscow offices and confiscated a bunch of documents that led to the theft of US$230 million from the Russian state. Browder’s friend and lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, investigated the theft and uncovered a massive scandal. Soon after he testified he was arrested and eventually died after a year of vengeful torture.

Browder embarked on a quest for justice which culminated in the passing of the Magnitsky Act, which punished Russian officials accused of human rights abuses by freezing access to assets hidden in western banks and prevents them from entering the United States.

While it’s not a work of literary genius, it’s a good read in the classic thriller style: at the end of chapters there’s the occasional clichéd bait of “I thought things were ok, little did I know”. Of more interest is the insight you get into the calculating corruption of Putin’s Russia, which leaves you wondering how deep the corruption must go that he has remained in power for as long as he has.

The link to the White House is that Putin has been trying to get the Magnitsky Act repealed since the day it was passed, and one of his retaliatory moves was to block the adoption of Russian children by US parents. One of his lobbyists is the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Donald Trump Jr after his father won the Republican nomination for president. Both Trump Sr and Jr have reportedly said when they met with Russian officials they “discussed adoption.”

If you’re interested in some more insight into how scary the Russian government can be, have a listen to a brand new podcast from NPR called Rough Translation. The first episode is called Ukraine vs. Fake News and explores how totally made up stories spread by the Russian government led to war in Ukraine. Chilling stuff.

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