The True Story of Fraud, Murder and Putin’s Anger ‘Freezing Order’: NPR

Scott Simon talks with investor Bill Proder about his book “The Freezing Order: A True Story of Russian Money Laundering, State-Aided Assassination and Vladimir Putin’s Wrath.”



Scott Simon, Host:

President George W. Bush. Bush once met Vladimir Putin and said he was very honest and trustworthy. President Barack Obama has called for a resumption of relations with Russia. Bill Broder, the US-British financier, thought he could have a fruitful relationship with Vladimir Putin. But he has dedicated his life to seeking justice for Putin’s crimes after his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death in a Russian prison in 2009. He wrote a new book, “Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder and Surviving Vladimir Putin’s Wrath.” Bill Prouder joins us. Mr. Browder, thank you so much for being with us.

Bill Browder: Good to be here.

Simon: Given the history of how Vladimir Putin reconciled with his enemies, should I ask how you are still with us?

Prouder: Well, he definitely wants to kill me. Kidnapping, death threats. I have been issued eight Interpol arrest warrants. I was even arrested in Madrid a few years ago. The reason I’m still here is because in the midst of all this, Putin has always had one foot in the civilized world and one foot in the criminal world. He wanted to go to the G-20 conference. He wanted to host international sporting events and more. Even though he was seriously plotting the murders, including mine – I think he would have decided at some point that killing me at some point would affect his chances of being in that civilized world. So he did nothing absurd during that period. He has now gained both feet in the criminal world by launching this incredible murderous invasion of Ukraine. So my own risk has increased exponentially.

Simon: You see the Magnitsky law – a two-party bill passed in 2012 that freezes the assets of the Russian authorities who discovered Sergei Magnitsky’s death – is central to everything we see now. How?

BROWER: Well, so Magnitsky law – this, of course, does not apply only to the assassins of Sergei Magnitsky. This applies to all Russian human rights violators, and indeed to all human rights violations around the world. It is now – it started in the US, it is now in Canada, UK, EU, Australia. In fact, it exists in 34 countries.

Simon: Thank you in part for your continued campaigning, but please.

BROWER: Really. But – Putin hates it – hates it, because it endangers his own fortunes, which is an enormous fortune. I estimate it is $ 200 billion north. He tried and prevented it in every way – he intervened in the US election in 2016, sending his own people to the Trump Tower to try to cancel it – all sorts of crazy things. Now this template is just being used to get behind his money and the money of the oligarchy and the money of everyone who has frozen their property and seized their boats. I could not have imagined that this – all of which began with the assassination of Sergei Magnitsky and the response to that assassination – would have led to a policy that was one of the key principles in combating the death of my lawyer. Again against this terrible thing that is going on now.

Simon: Forgive me if it seems simple, but you say – follow blood and money?

BROWER: Really. Blood money led to all these things, basically. Putin – If you ask me why Putin is occupying Ukraine, he is afraid that the Russian people will wake up just because he stole so much money, he needed a distraction. Remember shaking the dog? – This is – you know, start a war. That’s it – I do not believe it’s about NATO or the EU and Ukraine joining. This is what Putin is most afraid of about his own people. He started this war, he – this is not the first time he has started a war. He starts wars when he thinks he is flagging in the recognition of the Russian people.

Simon: Are you concerned about popular opinion in Western democracies that their governments should reduce support for Ukraine when energy prices rise?

BROWER: Well, I think maybe it will. But at the same time – I have seen this many times before – Vladimir Putin will do another atrocity, which almost no one can say. He continues to do more and more horrible things. God, the moment we begin to realize that doing things is expensive; You know, maybe this is not so good. You know, 100,000 people are dead, and we see some horrible, unbelievable things we can never imagine anyone doing. That’s how Putin works. So he did not try – he plays this game for his own domestic audience. And his own domestic audience must see the brutal strength. This time, he shows weakness. So no matter what I feel now and what some people regret, inflation, we all see these things on TV everyday, and it brings so much heartache and pain to watch.

Simon: Mr. Broder, I have to ask you an almost incomprehensible question, but considering the time and perspective you spent on finding Vladimir Putin, are you worried about a nuclear attack?

BROWER: I just don’t care about that. I think it is possible. Now, another question is who he is attacking and what he is doing. But we need to understand that Vladimir Putin is a criminal. He knows no boundaries. He has no moral compass. He is a person who does anything for his own, financial and survival interests. If he sees the use of a nuclear weapon – perhaps the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, I think for him it is something that will redesign this conflict, and I think it is entirely possible and feasible. I’m not the only one thinking this. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky has said the same thing.

Simon: How do the West respond?

PROWER: Well, I think we should basically create a complete, complete barrier against this guy. We must completely isolate him economically and give the Ukrainians every opportunity to resist whatever happens. We have not done enough yet. More oligarchy is to be allowed. Are still buying oil – that is, Europeans are sending billions of dollars every day to Putin to kill them by buying oil and gas from the Ukrainians. We need to stop it. We must provide the Ukrainians with all the military support they need, including a no-fly zone. Many people do not like what I say, but it is true.

Simon: The concern is, it will provoke a Russian military response, won’t it?

Prouder: Well, we already have the Russian military answer. That is, we are engaged in non-flying areas in Libya and Bosnia, near Russia. This – that is, there is no justification for his occupation of Ukraine, and it is entirely justified to do so. But it was a long conversation. But I believe we need to show strength to Putin, you know, we do not want a military confrontation with you – we already have a military confrontation. We are already involved. We are already supplying them with large quantities of weapons.

Simon: Bill Prouder – New book, “Freezing Order” – Thank you so much for being with us.

BROWER: Thank you.

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