William Felix Browder (born 23 April 1964) is an American-born British financier and economist. He is the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management, an investment fund that at one time was the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia. He gave up his U.S. citizenship in 1998 to avoid paying taxes related to foreign investment. After having business in Russia for ten years, Browder was refused entry to Russia in 2005 as a threat to national security; he has said it was because he exposed corruption.
William Felix Browder
April 23, 1964
|Education||University of Colorado, Boulder|
University of Chicago (BSc)
Stanford University (MBA)
|Occupation||CEO, Hermitage Capital Management|
|Relatives||Felix Browder (Father)|
Earl Browder (Grandfather)
William Browder (Uncle)
Andrew Browder (Uncle)
After the death in prison in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who had represented his company and conducted an investigation into massive tax fraud related to it, Browder lobbied for Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, a law to punish Russian human rights violators, which was signed into law in 2012 by President Barack Obama. In 2013, Browder was tried in absentia in Russia for tax fraud, jointly in a posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky. He was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. Interpol rejected Russian requests to arrest Browder, saying the case was political. In 2014, the European Parliament voted for sanctions against 30 Russians believed complicit in the Magnitsky case; this was the first time it had taken such action.
On October 19, 2017, Canada enacted its own Magnitsky Act, which allows for the freezing of assets and visa bans on officials from Russia and other nations considered to be guilty of human rights violations, and prohibits Canadian firms from dealing with foreign nationals who have grossly violated human rights. Other countries including Estonia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, have also enacted their own version of the Magnitsky Act.
On October 21, 2017, as part of a criminal conviction for tax evasion, the Russian government attempted to place Browder on Interpol's arrest list. After a protest by U.S. Congressional leaders, his visa was restored the following day. Russia's arrest-warrant request was rejected by Interpol on October 26, 2017. While visiting Spain in May 2018, Browder was arrested on 30 May 2018 by Spanish authorities on a new Russian Interpol warrant and transferred to an undisclosed Spanish police station, yet he was released two hours later, after Interpol confirmed that this was a political case.
Early life and educationEdit
William Felix Browder was born in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of mathematician Felix Browder, and the grandson of Earl Browder, however he grew up in Chicago, Illinois He attended the University of Colorado, Boulder before transferring to the University of Chicago, from which he graduated with a degree in economics. He earned an MBA from Stanford Business School in 1989 and entered the financial sector.
Browder's paternal grandfather was Earl Browder, who was born in Kansas in 1891. He was a radical and had lived in the Soviet Union for several years from 1927 and married Raisa Berkman, a Jewish Russian woman, while living there. After his return to the United States in 1931, Earl Browder became the leader of the Communist Party USA, and ran for U.S. president in 1936 and 1940. After World War II, Browder lost favor with Moscow and was expelled from the U.S. Communist Party.
Earl and his wife Raisa had three children, all sons, and all three became mathematicians who headed the mathematics departments of top American universities including Bill Browder's father Felix Browder who married Eva (Tislowitz). Felix was a mathematics prodigy who had entered MIT at 16, acquired his bachelor's degree in two years, and by the age of 20 received a Ph.D. from Princeton. But during the McCarthy era, he could not find work because he was the son of the onetime head of the Communist Party USA. After a series of job rejections in the 1950s, he was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady who was then chairman of the board of Brandeis University; she overrode the rest of the board who were afraid to hire him, and he gained a position at Brandeis. Felix went on to chair the mathematics department at the University of Chicago, and in 1999 became the president of the American Mathematical Society.
Felix Browder was renowned in the field of nonlinear functional analysis — a branch of mathematics with wide applications to such fields as physics, engineering, and finance. He was instrumental in establishing a science and technology center in conjunction with Princeton University and Bell Labs. In 1999, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bill Clinton, for his "key role in the explosive growth of nonlinear functional analysis and its applications to partial differential equations in recent years".
Career and citizenshipEdit
In 1998, Bill Browder gave up his U.S. citizenship and became a British citizen, partly to avoid paying U.S. taxes on foreign investments. At the time, he was working in the Eastern European practice of the Boston Consulting Group in London, and managed the Russian proprietary investments desk at Salomon Brothers. In October 2017, when answering a question about the decision to renounce his U.S. citizenship, he cited "a legacy of bad feeling about the rule of law" as a result of his family having been "viciously persecuted" by U.S. authorities in the 1950s.
Hermitage Capital ManagementEdit
Browder and Edmond Safra (1932–1999) founded Hermitage Capital Management in 1996 for the purpose of investing initial seed capital of $25 million in Russia during the period of the mass privatization after the fall of the Soviet Union. Beny Steinmetz was another of the original investors in Hermitage.
Following the Russian financial crisis of 1998, Browder remained committed to Hermitage's original mission of investing in Russia, despite significant outflows from the fund. Hermitage became a prominent activist shareholder in the Russian gas giant Gazprom, the large oil company Surgutneftegaz, RAO UES, Sberbank, Sidanco, Avisma, and Volzhanka. Browder exposed management corruption and corporate malfeasance in these partly state-owned companies. He has been quoted as saying: "You had to become a shareholder activist if you didn't want everything stolen from you".
In 1999, Avisma filed a RICO lawsuit against Browder and other Avisma investors including Kenneth Dart, alleging they illegally siphoned company assets into offshore accounts and then transferred the funds to U.S. accounts at Barclays. Browder and his co-defendants settled with Avisma in 2000; they sold their Avisma shares as part of the confidential settlement agreement.
In 1995–2006 Hermitage Capital Management was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia, and Browder amassed millions through his management of the fund. In both 2006 and 2007, he earned an estimated £125–150 million.
In March 2013, HSBC, a bank that serves as the trustee and manager of Hermitage Capital Management, announced that it would end the fund's operations in Russia. The decision was taken amid two legal cases against Browder: a libel court case in London and a trial in absentia for tax evasion in Moscow.
Conflict with Russian governmentEdit
In 2005, after ten years of business deals in Russia, Browder was blacklisted by the Russian government as a "threat to national security" and denied entry to the country. The Economist wrote that the Russian government blacklisted Browder because he interfered with the flow of money to "corrupt bureaucrats and their businessmen accomplices". Other experts on the activities of Western "investors" in Russia in the 1990s were more sympathetic to the Russian government's assessment, citing Browder's earlier settlement agreement with Avisma, which seemed to indicate a long-standing habit of siphoning off funds to offshore accounts. Browder had earlier supported Russian president Vladimir Putin.
As reported in 2008 by The New York Times, "over the next two years several of his associates and lawyers, as well as their relatives, became victims of crimes, including severe beatings and robberies during which documents were taken". In June 2007, dozens of police officers "swooped down on the Moscow offices of Hermitage and its law firm, confiscating documents and computers. When a member of the firm protested that the search was illegal, he was beaten by officers and hospitalized for two weeks, said the firm's head, Jamison R. Firestone." Hermitage became "victim of what is known in Russia as 'corporate raiding': seizing companies and other assets with the aid of corrupt law enforcement officials and judges". Three Hermitage holding companies were seized on what the company's lawyers insist were bogus charges.
The raids in June 2007 allegedly enabled corrupt law enforcement officers to steal the corporate registration documents of three Hermitage holding companies. They allegedly perpetrated a fraud, claiming (and receiving) a rebate of $230 million in taxes paid by those companies to the Russian state in 2006. In November 2008 one of Hermitage's auditors, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested. He was charged with the very tax evasion that he was investigating. Magnitsky died on November 16, 2009 in prison, after eleven months in pretrial detention, nearly the limit allowed under the law. A report linked to by the Wall Street Journal said he died of disease made worse by poor medical treatment. A report by the Physicians for Human Rights in Cambridge, Mass., said the same
As a result of the controversy related to his arrest and evidence of mistreatment and claimed abuse, his death aroused international coverage and outrage. Magnitsky's death was the catalyst for passage by the U.S. Congress, of the Magnitsky Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 14, 2012. The act directly targeted individuals involved in the Magnitsky affair by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and their use of its banking system. The Russian government retaliated by prohibiting adoption of Russian children by American citizens, and prohibiting certain individuals from entering Russia.
In February 2013, Russian officials announced that Browder and Magnitsky would both be tried for evading $16.8 million in taxes. In March 2013, Russian authorities announced that they would be investigating Hermitage's acquisition of Gazprom shares worth $70 million. The investigation was to focus on whether Browder violated any Russian laws when Hermitage used Russian companies registered in the region of Kalmykia to buy shares. An investigation by the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights cleared Browder of the accusations of improprieties that surfaced at this time. At the time, according to the Russian law, foreigners were barred from directly owning Gazprom shares. Browder was also charged with trying to gain access to Gazprom's financial reports.
Browder admitted having sought influence in Gazprom, but denied any wrongdoing. He said that purchasing Gazprom shares was an investment in the Russian economy, and the desire to influence the Gazprom management was driven by the need to expose a "huge fraud going on at the company". He also said that the scheme of using Russian-registered subsidiaries entitled to tax advantages was practised by other foreign investors at the time and was not illegal. He also said that he believed the trial was a response to the United States passing the Magnitsky Act, which had blacklisted Russian officials involved in Magnitsky's death, preventing them from entering the U.S. The Financial Times reported that this trial was the first in Russian history that included a dead defendant.
Amnesty International described the trial as "a whole new chapter in Russia's worsening human rights record" and a "sinister attempt to deflect attention from those who committed the crimes Magnitsky exposed". The American weekly magazine The Nation had said in December 2012 that the Magnitsky Act "recklessly and needlessly jeopardized U.S.-Russian cooperation in vital areas from Afghanistan and the Middle East to international terrorism and nuclear proliferation".
On 11 July 2013, Browder was convicted in absentia by a district criminal court in Moscow on charges under article 199 of the RF Criminal Code (tax-evasion by organisations), and sentenced to nine years. Magnitsky was posthumously convicted of fraud. In May 2013 and again in July 2013, Interpol rejected requests by Russia's Interior Ministry to put Browder on its search list and locate and arrest him, saying that Russia's case against him was "predominantly political".
In April 2014, the European Parliament unanimously passed a resolution to impose sanctions on more than 30 Russians complicit in the Magnitsky case; the first time in the parliament's history that a vote was held to establish a public sanctions list. However, the vote was only advisory to the European Commission, which did not act on it.
In December 2017, Browder was tried in absentia and convicted of tax evasion and deliberate bankruptcy by a Russian court, receiving a sentence of nine years of imprisonment.
On 30 May 2018, Browder was arrested by Spanish police in Madrid on a Russian Interpol arrest warrant. He was freed soon after, when the General Secretary of Interpol warned the Spanish police not to follow the Russian arrest warrant. Browder had come to Spain to brief anti-mafia prosecutor José Grinda. After briefing him, Browder returned to the United Kingdom.
|Browder's testimony on the Foreign Agents Registration Act before the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 27, 2017, C-SPAN|
2017 testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary CommitteeEdit
On July 27, 2017, Browder testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in regards to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and Fusion GPS. The latter is the opposition research firm based in Washington D.C. that commissioned former MI6 staffer Christopher Steele to collect information on Donald Trump's ties with Russia. The hearing was set up to examine the firm's separate work on a legal case involving the Magnitsky Act. He directly discussed the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Browder testified that President Putin is "the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world", building a fortune by threatening Russian oligarchs and getting a 50% cut of their profits:
I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation. Therefore, he has a significant and very personal interest in finding a way to get rid of the Magnitsky sanctions.
Browder concluded his statement by reviewing the circumstances that led to U.S. passage of the Magnitsky Act:
I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests. I also hope that this story and others like it may lead to a change in the FARA enforcement regime in the future.
Book about experiences in RussiaEdit
In February 2015, Browder published a book about his career, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice, focusing on his years spent in Russia and the Russian government's attacks on Hermitage Capital Management. Browder's responses to Russian corruption and his support of the investigation into the death of his attorney Sergei Magnitsky are at the heart of the book. A film adaptation written by William Nicholson was reportedly in the works in 2015.
Prevezon civil asset forfeiture caseEdit
In 2013, the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's Southern District filed a civil asset forfeiture case against Prevezon Holdings Limited, a real estate holding company belonging to Russian businessman Denis Katsyv, based on information from Browder. Prevezon and the Department of Justice settled the case in May 2017 for $5.9 million.
Browder attempted to resist subpoenas that would force him to reveal his sources for information he gave to federal prosecutors. The court ruled that Browder was not required to comply with a subpoena served in Aspen, Colorado, because he "does not live or conduct business transactions regularly in Aspen", but he was required to comply with a subpoena served in New York, where he had been discussing his new book on a television show. He was deposed in April 2015.
Danske Bank's money laundering caseEdit
A 2016 documentary by Andrei Nekrasov, The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes, "absolves the Russian government of any responsibility for Magnitsky's death" and claims that Browder was behind the $230-million tax-rebate fraud. The film was promoted in Europe and the U.S. by a group that included Natalia Veselnitskaya. Some European theater screenings and a television broadcast of the film were canceled after threats of libel suits from Browder. Over Browder's objections, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. held a screening in June 2016 that was hosted by Seymour Hersh. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)'s office actively promoted the screening, sending out invitations from the office of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, which Rohrabacher chairs.
Vladimir Putin statement in HelsinkiEdit
On July 16, 2018, during a joint press conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated that Browder had funneled $400 million dollars to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, an effort that involved members of the U.S. intelligence community who, Putin said, "accompanied and guided these transactions." The statement was made after Putin said he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller's team to come to Russia for their investigation – as long as there was a reciprocal arrangement for Russian intelligence to investigate in the U.S.
For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder, in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia and never paid any taxes neither in Russia or the United States and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent [a] huge amount of money, $400,000,000, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. (Later, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office spokesman Alexander Kurennoy clarified that it was not $400 million, but rather $400,000.) Well that’s their personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself but the way the money was earned was illegal. So we have solid reason to believe that some [US] intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions. So we have an interest in questioning them.
Politifact, The Washington Post and The New York Times rated Putin's claim about the funding false, noting that there is no evidence to substantiate it. Bill Browder, in his own article for Time, called the accusation "so ludicrous and untrue that it falls into delusion." He maintains that Putin continues to accuse him of false allegations in response to Browder's involvement with the Magnitsky Act. Browder also points out that he is a British citizen and no longer American, therefore Trump would be unable to respond to Putin's request.
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For Mr. Browder, 44, Russia was more than a place to do business. His grandfather Earl Browder was a communist from Kansas who moved to the Soviet Union in 1927, staying for several years and marrying a Russian. He returned with her to the United States to lead the Communist Party for a time, even running for president.
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In 1995–2006 Hermitage Capital Management was one of the biggest foreign investors in Russia. Mr. Browder campaigned for the rights of minority shareholders, criticising the governance of Russia's partly state-owned corporations.
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HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) is closing Hermitage Capital Management Ltd.'s flagship Russia fund just as its co-founder, William Browder, is being sued for libel in London and tried in absentia for tax evasion in Moscow. "It was too small to continue as a viable concern," Browder, 48, said by phone yesterday from London, where he's based. Browder said the closing is "completely" in the hands of HSBC, which is the trustee and manager of the fund.
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As the manager of a big Russian investment fund, Bill Browder has contributed to the circulation of the first kind of money—as well as making a packet for himself, and making his rich clients even richer. But he has also interfered with the supply of the second sort of money—and been ...
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Retaliation came quickly. But in fact, he was the Hermitage accountant who handled its tax evasion. Clearly, the conspirators hadn't reckoned on publicity and so decided to cover their backs. They invented a cover story. In January, Sergei Magnitsky, one of Firestone Duncan's top attorneys and auditors, was unexpectedly arrested as he arrived to give evidence to a prosecutor assigned to investigate the case.
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Retaliation came quickly. Clearly, the conspirators hadn't reckoned on publicity and so decided to cover their backs. In January, Sergei Magnitsky, one of Firestone Duncan's top lawyers, was unexpectedly arrested as he arrived to give evidence to a prosecutor assigned to investigate the case.
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Sergei Magnitsky was our attorney, and friend, who died under excruciating circumstances in a Moscow pre-trial detention center on Nov. 16, 2009.
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He said he had bought Gazprom shares in order to invest in the Russian economy and influence the Gazprom management because 'we noticed that there was huge fraud going on at the company'. Mr Browder insists that the way he bought the shares – through Russian-registered subsidiaries entitled to tax advantages – was legal and used by other foreign investors at the time.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bill Browder.|
- Official website
- Profile of Browder, Stanford Business School alumni magazine
- Video – Bill Browder: Sergey Magnitsky case reveals Russia's ugliest face, Opalesque FIVE Minutes, 02/17/2010
- "The Browder Ultimatum", Tatler magazine, June 2010
- Video – Interview with Browder, Charlie Rose Show
- Appearances on C-SPAN