South Africa


‘He’s like the Tinder Swindler’: Magnitsky Act architect Bill Browder on Putin’s War

‘He’s like the Tinder Swindler’: Magnitsky Act architect Bill Browder on Putin’s War
Founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and author of Red Notice Bill Browder (left) and Daily Maverick editor-at-large Richard Poplak (right). (Photos: Supplied)

More than 3,000 attendees of the Daily Maverick webinar heard that ‘Vladimir Putin is a criminal kleptocrat and his main objective has been to steal money. And then afterwards, his main objective is to stay in power to keep his money and not go to jail.’

“He’s never told the truth once in his life. He’s like the Tinder Swindler. Everything he says should be discounted, and one should then say, what are his incentives? What’s he really trying to achieve?” said Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, author of Red Notice and architect of the Magnitsky Act, about Russian President Vladimir Putin during an exclusive Daily Maverick webinar on Sunday night.

Daily Maverick editor-at-large Richard Poplak and Browder were discussing the character of Putin, his recent invasion of Ukraine and the effect this will have on South Africa and the rest of the world. 

Russia: not a country but a criminal organisation

“Russia is not a sovereign country in the way we think of sovereign countries, it’s a criminal organisation, with all the powers of a sovereign state. So any person who enters into the Russian government does so not to serve their country, but to steal as much money as possible,” said Browder. 

Browder said that since Putin came to power 22 years ago, about a trillion dollars had been stolen from the Russian state, with Putin himself raking in more than $200-billion. 

Browder explained that Putin and his ministers get away with this by using oligarchs, well-known rich people around them who hold the money, then launder it through different countries where it’s invested in mainstream businesses.  

“When you see the Forbes list of the most wealthy people, half that money doesn’t belong to them,” said Browder. “It belongs to Vladimir Putin.” 

And it’s not just wealthy Russians who hold the money. Browder said the Russian government had created a “population of Western enablers”, who help them launder and hide the money. 

“They’ve succeeded in fully compromising and integrating into the Western society and allowing for many, many years the most outrageous financial crimes to go unpunished. 

“There’s plenty of dirty Russian money everywhere,” said Browder, emphasising that the UK is particularly bad because this type of criminality goes uninvestigated there.  

‘A liar and a con man’ 

“Vladimir Putin is a liar and a con man,” said Browder. “And everything he says or does has an ulterior purpose. I don’t think that Vladimir Putin has an ideology. I don’t think he cares about the Soviet Union. I don’t think he cares about Nato.”   

Browder was responding to a question from Poplak about whether Western countries should have paid more attention to Putin’s pro-Soviet stance, such as he projected at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 and in various speeches and essays after that.  

“Vladimir Putin is a criminal kleptocrat and his main objective has been to steal money. And then afterwards, his main objective is to stay in power to keep his money and not go to jail. And so he’s not thinking about anything other than survival.” 

What this war is really about 

“This war is not about any of those things he said,” said Browder. 

Browder explained that Putin was first put into power to get rid of the oligarchy system and bring order to the state following the hyperinflation and destitute state the previous president, Boris Yeltsin, left Russia in. 

“This war is that he’s been in power for 22 years, people have not gotten better off after all those promises he made about getting rid of the oligarchs and so on, they’ve gotten worse off. 

“And all of a sudden, all around him, the dictators are either being overthrown or attempted to be overthrown by the population,” said Browder, mentioning how the Belarus people tried to overthrow President Alexander Lukashenko and the more recent Kazakh uprising that got rid of the Nazarbayev family. 

“Putin could see the writing on the wall,” said Browder, explaining that Putin didn’t want to wait for the citizens of Russia to rise up and kick him out, so he started a war. 

“He doesn’t give one [any] sense of thought about any ideology, this is purely about staying in power.  

“And all this stuff is a pantomime of theatre for the Russian people and for the Western world so that there’s some narrative that we think he’s trying to pursue.” 

Is nuclear war a real threat? 

Browder said that it’s not inconceivable to him that Putin would set off a nuclear bomb if it was his best chance of staying in power – maybe not in the short term, but possibly in the medium term. 

Browder explained that because of all the crimes he’s committed, if Putin lost power he’d end up in jail, lose all his money and probably die, so he will use any means to ensure he stays in power until the end of his natural life. 

“It’s a real threat. Vladimir Putin is a man who can’t back down, who only escalates, who knows no boundaries.  

“It’s something that we should have all thought about when everybody was appeasing him for 20 years, hoping that he would just go away.” 

Poplak responded, “Well he hasn’t gone away, that’s for certain.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Karsten Döpke says:

    Amazing webinar, never heard of Bill Browder before, but will now definitely be reading his books. Very nice to hear from Richard again too.

  • Craig B says:

    It’s basically what’s been created in South Africa a kleptocratic Satellite sphere of influence. Same ideology same language Same grindingly poor people.

  • Charles Parr says:

    So that’s where our idiots get it from and, last July, D D Mabuza obviously was there to count his money while waiting for a call up as president of the country. Despicable bunch of thieves.

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    More than 3,000 attendees of the Daily Maverick webinar heard that ‘Vladimir Putin is a criminal kleptocrat and his main objective has been to steal money. And then afterwards, his main objective is to stay in power to keep his money and not go to jail.’ – sound exactly like the anc ….

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    we have a couple of those. one is “Secure in Comfort!”

  • Patrick Devine says:

    100% agree with Bill. Any romanticising Putin’s giving a finger to the ‘west’, like the ANC is doing is a complete joke and is murdering Ukrainians civilian population.

    Russia’s conscript army must refuse to serve, just as many did to oppose South Africa’s Apartheid policies.

  • Mariella Norman says:

    This webinar was an incredibly illuminating and quite shocking insight into the mind of Putin. I was also appalled to hear how complicit London and the financial world have been in helping Putin amass his hidden fortune around the world, and the UK’s explicit refusal to prosecute Putin’s oligarch’s in their criminal monetary activities.

    • John P Stathoulis says:

      Agreed on the quality and content of the webinar. Time for Attila the [Peter] Hain to be unleashed on the UK’s decision makers and estate agents. There are brave people, some with SA connections, conducting bus tours of London highlighting homes (sic) owned by kleptocrats – Google Kleptocracy Tours if you are interested.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Mariella … not only has the UK been a primary (not exclusive) party to the accumulation of Kremlin wealth hoarded there, they also have huge holdings of middle eastern (kleptocratic) wealth stashed there ! It was in an effort to try to hold onto its original designation as “great” … until Trump decided to usurp that designation. AND … now the leaders of every other little dictatorship use it to whip up unbridled and unquestionable but misguided ‘patriotism’ .

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Listening to Bill Browder describe how the Russian system works I couldn’t help but think: ‘well that’s exactly how our system works here in SA’.
    The ANC learnt well

  • Sue Morris says:

    So is south africa a criminal organisation. Comfortable bed fellows with russia

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Remember, some years ago, a local investigative reporter chronicled a situation called “Gangster State” ? … and he wasn’t even describing Russia ! CR learnt nothing from it … but now claims to be an expert on why Russia invaded Ukraine … for LOL . Is it possible he is could be ‘fronting’ (and possibly punting) for Putin ?

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    In Putin, like various others, we are dealing with a psychopath … at the extreme end of the spectrum ! They not only openly lie with a straight face and create their own versions of facts and reality, but are prepared to kill and destroy to serve their personal interests/ambitions … even if it involves suicidal actions.

  • Jürgen Hoffmann Hoffmann says:

    Bill Browder is entitled to his opinion and while I understand that he has some very serious and very personal grievances, I am surprised and somewhat shocked at the conduct of the DM in this matter.
    Mr. Browder is party to a long-standing and very personal conflict which has little to no bearing on the conflict unfolding in the Ukraine.
    Demonizing Vladimir Putin is counterproductive, even if his actions concerning Ukraine are deplorable and not to be condoned in any way.
    The seed for the current disaster was sown 3 decades ago and Putin is not the only one with blood on its hands.
    I urge you to continue offering your readers well researched facts rather than mere opinions without substantiated evidence backing up the claims being made by individuals.

    Jürgen Hoffmann

    • Keith Scott says:

      Everyone should read “Putin’s People” a well referenced book that backs Browder’s book. If you want evidence you will find plenty of it there.

    • Uno Pereira says:

      I agree with you to a certain extent Jürgen. This wasn’t an impartial and well balanced observation of these events. I don’t condone what Putin is doing and I do think he is a sociopath, but so are the majority of the leaders of the western powers.
      Mr. Bowder referred to Nato and the West on most occasions during the webinar as “us”, who is “them” then? This kind of rethoric was bad during the cold War, today it’s completely unacceptable. He also very quickly pushed aside the argument that the United States invasion of Iraq wasn’t a key event that influenced the Ukraine invasion, maybe…but the US did invade another country, not a neighboring country, against a UN resolution and under false pretences (read fabricated evidence) that Saddam’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. Talking about using weapons of mass destruction against civilians let’s not forget Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Vietnam as well as the countless proxy wars and puppet regimes that the American Governement waged on South America, Africa and Asia for the last 70 years. Yes, Putin is a sociopath but he marches on the shadow of numerous psicopaths that have occupied the presidential chair in the white house and have been part of numerous murderous administrations, Biden included. Let’s not forget the British and the French either. So yesterday’s webinar was very informative on many fronts, no doubt about it, but also on the bias of many commentators and on the selective memory that they seem to have.

      • Johann Olivier says:

        Conflating the invasion of Iraq – a crime, no doubt – with the invasion of Ukraine, is disingenuous at best. Iraq was run by a murderous, psychopathic family with no legitimacy. Ukraine is a democratic state with total legitimacy. When last, in any democratic country, did a leader receive 72% of the vote? Zelenskyy did. (By the way, Putin is not a sociopath. He is an outright, proven psychopath. Biden was right to call him a killer. The historic evidence is overwhelming.)

    • newmarch26 says:

      “Mr. Browder is party to a long-standing and very personal conflict”
      Surely that is a statement that can be applied to a good many serious and credible activists, whether East or West, or Left or Right?
      As I see it, that has been the case since the advent of tyrants how many thousands of years ago.
      Do you consider that you are somehow excused from backing your ‘allegations’ with “well researched facts”?

  • Ramabifi Kenneth Thobejane says:

    I hear a lot of emotive, poorly disciplined and poorly argued wild allegations without an iota of any proof. The disdain for President Putin comes out in a very palpable way. These are unsubstantiated allegations and we are expected to believe them. Please stable your emotional horses and provide proof of the trillions and billions you so easily brandish about. Very low indeed.

  • Neil Parker says:

    I am busy re-reading Gary Kasparov’s book “Winter is coming” written around 2015 and laying out in black and white exactly why we are seeing what we are seeing today. The former World Chess Champion is just as far-sighted in his analysis of political events as ever he was on the chess board. Recommended reading from a man with an ‘inside track’ on Russian politics as well as on Russian perceptions of the West. And the betrayal of Ukraine with UK/US security ‘guarantees’ not worth the paper they were written on whilst Russia simply tore up the paper.

  • Inge Evenwel says:

    Valuable insights but makes perfect sense. His own government is scared of him and he just goes through the motions. The ONLY person he is worried about is himself.

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