When A Russian Lawyer Falls Out Of A Window, 'I Don't Think It's An Accident'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
More reminders this week at the dangers of opposing power in Vladimir Putin's Russia. A Russian lawmaker who had defected to Ukraine was shot dead on the streets in Kiev. And in Moscow, Nikolai Gorokhov, a Russian lawyer who was about to testify in a high-profile court case, fell from the fourth-story window of his apartment, the kind of household accident that happens all the time. Mr. Gorokhov was badly injured, but he survived. He was representing the mother of another Russian lawyer who did not survive, Sergei Magnitsky who died in prison in 2009 after speaking out about official corruption. Our next guest is central to this case. William Browder is the U.S. businessman who hired Sergei Magnitsky to get to the bottom of that corruption. William Browder is CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management and joins us from London. Mr. Browder, thanks so much for being with us.
WILLIAM BROWDER: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: Officials in Moscow say that Nikolai Gorokhov fell from the window while he was trying to move a bathtub. Are you skeptical of that?
BROWDER: I'm entirely skeptical of it. First of all, the details that Russian press have reported are different than the details of actually what happened. Nikolai Gorokhov was about to unveil some highly damaging information about the collusion between Russian organized crime and the Russian law enforcement authorities' relation to covering up the murder of Sergei Magnitsky. And then conveniently he plunges four stories to the ground the night before that case is supposed to go to court.
SIMON: He was also due to testify in a federal court in New York, as I understand it. Is that case related to the one in Moscow?
BROWDER: It's exactly related. The case in New York involves Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer's - whose mother Nikolai Gorokhov represents. Sergei Magnitsky had exposed a $230 million corruption scheme that the Russian government had perpetrated. And after exposing it he was killed. And since then, we have been trying to find out where that money went. And we ended up tracking some of that money to apartment buildings in New York. We handed our information to the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice froze those buildings and is now going to court to take away that property from the Russians. Nikolai Gorokhov, the man who fell down four stories is due in - on May 15 to go to the trial in New York on behalf of the Department of Justice and testify to support their case. And so he has two highly sensitive cases in which he represents interests opposed to the Putin regime. And then all of a sudden, he falls out of his apartment. I don't think it's an accident.
SIMON: I think a lot of people listening will want to know when you say real estate interest in New York, is there their name we'd recognize?
BROWDER: No, it's not. It's not a name that everybody is thinking about.
SIMON: I don't mean this ironically, Mr. Browder, but, I mean, how do you explain the high incidence of household accidents and the extraordinary mortality rate among opponents of the Putin regime?
BROWDER: Because Valdimir Putin has no morals, he is ready to do anything to stay in power and to continue to loot the state for his own personal benefit and the benefit of those people around him. And so they will kill. And they prefer killing in a plausibly deniable way.
SIMON: We're speaking with you in London. Do you worry about your safety?
BROWDER: I do. I've been threatened by - explicitly and through other parties - by the Russian government. I've been threatened with death, threatened with kidnapping. They've tried coming after me. Now, they're on the fourth attempt to get an Interpol red notice to have me arrested and sent back to Russia so they can do to me what they did to my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, which was to kill him.
SIMON: We should explain for people who are unfamiliar with your story, you and Russia go back some ways. Your grandfather, Earl, was the chairman to the U.S. Communist Party and your company, Hermitage Capital, invested a lot of Russia - a lot of money in Russia in the '90s, right?
BROWDER: Yeah, so I come from this famous family of American communists, and my rebellion was to become a capitalist. And when the Berlin Wall came down, I moved to Russia, set up an investment fund, started it with nothing, and it eventually became the largest investment fund in Russia with $4.5 billion dollars invested in the Russian stock market. I ended up discovering a huge corruption, lots of stealing in the companies that I was investing in. And in order to stop the stealing, I decided to research how they went about the stealing and then to expose that through the international media.
SIMON: What should Americans know as we confront what seems to be rounds of investigations that could go on into the U.S.-Russia relationship?
BROWDER: Well, I think the first thing that every American should know is that Russia is not a normal country. Putin is not a normal head of a sovereign state. This is a criminal state run by a mafia boss. It's like Pablo Escobar except that Pablo Escobar, in this particular case, has a large military force and nuclear weapons.
SIMON: Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and author of the book "Red Notice." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.