Book: Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice
Author: Bill Browder
Review: Glenn P. Hendrix, chair, Arnall Golden Gregory LLP
Red Notice’s subtitle – A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice – captures the many levels on which this book succeeds: thriller, business saga and powerful denunciation of injustice.
Written by Bill Browder, Red Notice is a book in two parts. The first half describes the rise and fall of Browder’s hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, which at one time was the largest foreign investor in Russia. Browder saw early that Russia’s newly privatized state-owned companies were ludicrously undervalued. By 2004, Hermitage managed $4.5 billion in assets, generating returns of 1,500 percent for investors who had jumped in at its launch.
But the following year, Browder ran afoul of the Kremlin. He was expelled from Russia and Hermitage was seized by the Russian authorities (although Browder, anticipating trouble, had already quietly liquidated the fund’s holdings and transferred them abroad).
The second half of the book describes the fate of Hermitage’s Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison in 2009 of untreated pancreatitis, likely aggravated by a beating from his jailers. Browder embarked on a crusade against Magnitsky’s persecutors, culminating in the 2012 passage of the “Magnitsky Act,” which implemented sanctions against “persons responsible for [Magnitsky’s] detention, abuse, and death.”
Beyond the thread of Browder’s compelling story, Red Notice also serves to trace the broader changes taking place in Russia over the past two decades, from the chaotic early days of casino capitalism, to the legal and regulatory reforms of the mid to late ’90s that gave hope that Russia was evolving into a law-based state (even if in a lurching, two-steps-forward/one-step-back manner), to today’s strong-man authoritarianism.
For me, the most personally affecting aspect of the book was the account of Magnitsky’s stubborn belief in the rule of law and his courage in refusing to turn on his client, an act that would have sprung him from prison.
I’ve made several dozen trips to Russia since the early ’90s and for the past seven years chaired the American Bar Association’s annual conference in Moscow on the resolution of Russia-related business disputes. I never met Magnitsky, but have come to know many other fine Russian lawyers of the same stripe.
Following this year’s ABA Moscow conference, I made a pilgrimage to Preobrozhenskoe Cemetery, where Sergei Magnitsky is buried, to pay my respects – to him and to others in Russia who continue to promote the principle that all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws.
Reading Red Notice doesn’t offer much hope for their success, but it will sharpen appreciation for the rule of law in our own country – something we should never take for granted – and for those who strive to achieve it in other parts of the world.