Book Review: Red Notice by Bill Browder (10/10)

Red_Notice_book_coverRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice is a story of a Stanford graduate who against all common sense went to work in Eastern Europe just after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. First he worked for Boston Consulting Group and had his first project in Poland, then transferred to Salomon Brothers where he landed another project in Russia. This is an amazing story of how he sensed the business opportunities in Russia, built up his business, Hermitage Capital and how he fought oligarchs and corruption. The story is written in such a thrilling way that you can’t put the book down until you have reached the end and learned his story, and also the story of his lawyer, the late Sergei Magnitsky, and about how the corruption in modern Russia works.


You see in West when we hear corruption we imagine something in the lines of giving a police officer a €20 note not to get fined for your speeding of 12 km over the limit. This is not the case in Russia. In Russia, corruption means that you might have the most law-abiding business out there, but if you do something that the local political elite does not like, then things start to happen. First, 20 corrupt policemen raid you offices, your lawyers’ offices, your business partners’ offices and take everything they find with them. Then, corrupt lawyers and state officials forge documents that show that you sold the company half a year ago to some convicted criminal, but just before the “sale” you applied for $230m tax rebate from the government, were given this money and then stole it before leaving the country. Then, at the court (in absentia), corrupt judges refuse all documented proof that this is not true and she sentences you to 9-year of prison. In the meantime, your lawyer who presented the documented proof about your company being stolen from you and the alleged theft of tax money being actually conducted by corrupt state officials, gets arrested too and sent to prison cell with 10 inmates and 4 beds. If your lawyer then develops a bad disease over time due to awful conditions and mistreatment, he is denied any medical attention by corrupt prison doctors and corrupt prison guards. At the end, he is beaten to death with batons by corrupt “investigators”. To top it all off, the main players in this saga – the corrupt officials who forged the whole schema and the corrupt judge who sentenced you and your lawyer to prison despite the overwhelming contrary evidence, get awarded by the state. This is what corruption and well, life, is in modern Russia.


Sergei Magnitsky

Sergei Magnitsky

In a captivating way mr. Browder tells the story, explaining his fight to save his colleagues, partners and friends from the wrath of Russian state. Most of the people involved manage to escape the country, but one of his lawyers – the forementioned Sergei Magnitsky – stays because he believes in the state and he believes that if one has done nothing wrong, then nothing bad can happen to him. Unfortunately he has to learn his lesson in the worst possible way. After Sergei’s death mr. Browder devotes his life to bring at least a little justice and consolation to the lives of Sergei’s widow and two young kids. After years of struggle in the US congress and European Parliament he is successful by getting visa bans and asset freezes to all of 50 or so corrupt officials directly connected to the injust arrest, judgement, torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

I learned about the book from The Economist a few weeks ago and I must admit that throughout the years this has been the best book I’ve learned about from The Economist. Perhaps the two main things that make this one of the best books I’ve read in years are author’s storytelling abilities and absolute dismissal of irrelevant facts, descriptions, side-stories and all other annoying content that many contemporary books are filled with. The whole story is straight to the point and engages you from cover to cover. I suggest you to read it as a fascinating autobiography by a man with the most unlikely life story. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
For Estonian readers there is an additional spark in the book – when mr. Browder describes his ways of getting Magnitsky-legislation adopted in European Parliament, the MEP he describes helping him the most is one of our delegates at the time – Kristiina Ojuland. In fact, Mr. Browder goes as far as actually having a picture of himself, Mr. Magnitsky’s family together with Kristiina Ojuland in the book.

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