[00:00:00.22] PREET: Bill Browder, welcome back to the show, this is the Bill Browder sequel. Thanks for being with us.
[00:00:06.07] BILL: Great to be here.
[00:00:07.08] PREET: So I will say, we had you on the show many months ago, and the news about Russia and the news about you and the news about the Magnitsky Act has only gotten more important, and the other thing I wanted to tell you, is I don’t think there was another episode that we’ve done of the show, that resonated more with listeners. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, how much they appreciated the education that you gave them about Sergei Magnitsky and about oligarchs in Russia and about Putin and his conduct, so I want to thank you again for coming on and telling this story.
[00:00:40.06] BILL: Well it’s been my pleasure, and thank you for highlighting this story because it’s just so important that everybody knows what’s really going on with Magnitsky and Putin and how this forms a crucial part of the whole geopolitics of Russia right now.
[00:00:54.12] PREET: For those, you know, three or four people in the globe that are listening now, but who didn’t listen to the first episode, can you do like a 90 second summary of who Sergei Magnitsky was, why he was important, and what the law does that you helped pass in multiple countries?
[00:01:12.03] BILL: So Sergei Magnitsky was my lawyer in Russia, Sergei discovered a massive Putin crony corruption scheme where they were stealing 230 million dollars of taxes that I had paid to the Russian government from the Russian government. Sergei took that information as a Russian patriot, he exposed it, he testified against the corrupt officials involved, and instead of treating him as a hero, the Russian government arrested him, they put him in pretrial detention, they tortured him for 358 days, and they killed Sergei Magnitsky on November 16th, 2009, at the age of 37. And since then I’ve been on a mission to get justice for Sergei, which resulted in something named after Sergei called the Magnitsky Act, which is a piece of legislation first passed in the United States in 2012, which imposes visa sanctions, and asset freezes [00:02:11.22] on the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky and the people who do similar types of human rights abuses in Russia. And Vladimir Putin really hates that because Vladimir Putin is a man who does human rights abuses, and he has a lot of assets in the west, including the United States, so…
[00:02:30.26] PREET: You put his assets at how much?
[00:02:33.01] BILL: I estimate he’s worth 200 Billion dollars, which makes him the richest man in the world. And in order to keep that money safe he doesn’t keep it in Russia he keeps it in American banks, and British banks, and in real estate, and Switzerland and France and other places, and he feels, and he’s right to feel this way, he feels vulnerable because his money may end up getting seized and frozen, and that’s been the objective of my campaign. And I believe, and his own behavior demonstrates it, that we found his achilles heel, which is this, which is the Magnitsky Act.
[00:03:08.14] PREET: He certainly, he certainly hates your guts.
[00:03:10.00] BILL: He does.
[00:03:10.23] PREET: Which we’ll talk about, and he mentions you by name whenever he can. But just first I want to just explore more on how successful you campaign has been on the Magnitsky Act. So it passed in the United States, by an overwhelming margin, how many countries now have some version of the Magnitsky Act?
[00:03:28.15] BILL: So the Magnitsky Act passed on December 14th, 2012, or I should say was signed into law on December 14th, 2012, in the United States under Obama. Passed 92:4 in the Senate, and 89 percent in the house of representatives. We then got Canada to impose their version of the Magnitsky Act, and that passed unanimously in their House of Commons and unanimously in their senate, and became law in October of 2017. We then ended up with Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and most recently Britain, United Kingdom, along with Gibraltar, and so there’s now seven countries that have Magnitsky Acts, and as of right now there are nine countries’ parliaments, that are now debating and introducing Magnitsky Acts, and that includes a number of countries in Europe—France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, then we have Australia [00:04:23.16] which is, which got something cooking. South Africa, Ukraine….and just two days ago Moldova, without any intervention from me, the Moldovan parliament introduced a Magnitsky Act, and so there’s nine countries on deck, it looks very promising that we’ll get a bunch more signed up soon.
[00:04:40.11] PREET: And what’s the big get, for you?
[00:04:42.06] BILL: Well the key, for me, is France. Why France? France is where every self respecting kleptocrat from Russia has a villa, they have their villas in Saint Tropez, in Cap Ferret, Cap Antibe, and of course apartments in Paris, and so if we get France, it would really just hit these guys right between the eyes.
[00:05:06.19] PREET: It has an actual, practical effect. By the way what percentage of Russian oligarchs are self respecting?
[00:05:12.13] BILL: (Laughs) Well, I don’t know if they respect themselves, but they certainly value themselves and moreover, they get respect from their properties, and so if we take those properties away from them, there’s no way to make these people more infuriated, mad, and exposed.
[00:05:26.20] PREET: Who are the people who are antagonistic towards the Magnitsky Act, in some of these countries including France? Is it people who benefit financially from the spending by the oligarchs?
[00:05:37.14] BILL: Yeah, so I mean we had a long drawn out fight in the UK, and we finally got the Magnitsky Act passed, but there was a huge group of people, and you could almost see them physically because all these oligarchs were spending so much money in London, they were buying these huge villas and houses in central London, so the real estate agents, and then the lawyers who helped them buy the properties and the people who run the boutiques, and all this, concierges and car dealers, and all these people….it’s not a big part of the economy but they’re all very visible and they’re all very close to parliament, and they were all fighting like hell to make sure that this thing didn’t happen. And it was only after the Skripal poisoning, when effectively it was determined that the Russian government was involved in a terrorist attack using chemical weapons, that the government couldn’t argue against it anymore and we got it passed. But there’s a lot of like, particularly France and Germany, which was the other big prize, [00:06:35.11] but in those countries there’s a lot of Russian money flowing in to a lot of different places, and so there’s those people who get that money don’t want to stop, you know getting eggs from the golden goose, and so they’re all arguing against it. And it’s a tough fight.
[00:06:50.08] PREET: The more countries in which you get it passed, I’m guessing that eases the way in other countries?
[00:06:54.07] BILL: PRetty much so. And so it, after I got the US to pass a Magnitsky Act, it took a long time before the next one, so we got the first US in 2012 and took ‘til 2017 to get Canada. And part of the reason for that is that if I go to another country, and I say, “Listen, the US is doing this, you should too.” And there’s a lot of people who say, “Well you know, US is really sort of a unilateral country, it’s out there sort of flexing its muscles. I don’t know…” But when I say, “Well, Canada’s done it…”
[00:07:20.11] PREET: Right, our very nice neighbors to the north, right?
[00:07:23.24] BILL: I mean, to put it simply, you know there’s lots of people who are like, anti American, out in the rest of the world, but I’ve never encountered anybody who’s anti Canadian. And so….
[00:07:32.27] PREET: Have you met Donald Trump?
[00:07:34.02] BILL: (Laughs) Well….
[00:07:35.25] PREET: He’s been casting aspersions on our friends to the north in recent times.
[00:07:40.15] BILL: He’s the first.
[00:07:41.01] PREET: So, is that the principal work that you do these days? To try to get the Magnitsky Act passed?
[00:07:46.02] BILL: I’ve got sort of two jobs, I’m a full time activist, a full time justice activist. One of my activism jobs is to get the Magnitsky Act passed, and I would say that that takes up a majority of the time. And the second thing which I’m doing is I’m tracing the money, the 230 million dollars that Sergei Magnitsky discovered and was exposed and was killed over, I’m tracing that money to countries, we have a team of forensic investigators here that I manage, and we’ve been doing this for eight and a half years, so when I find the money, we file very detailed criminal complaints with the law enforcement agencies in those countries, we try to convince those countries to open criminal investigations to freeze the money and to prosecute the people who benefit from it. [00:08:26.07] And since we started that process, we’ve found the money, I would say more or less we’ve found all the money, we’ve traced it to about 26 different countries, there are now 15 live investigations going on around the world. And not only does this expose the crime that Sergei Magnitsky was killed over, but we’ve effectively exposed the entire Putin money laundering pipe to the West, and a lot of other illicit funds that flow through those pipes and to the extent that Putin is mad at me, he’s probably equally mad about the Magnitsky Act and the fact that there are now 15 live investigations going on about his dirty money around the world.
[00:09:01.19] PREET: Right. When Vladimir Putin rails against the Magnitsky Act, and you know, hollers about it and provokes you, does that actually help your cause? Although it may not be personally pleasant for you, does that end up backfiring on him and helping your cause?
[00:09:18.15] BILL: Big time, big time. And so people often ask me and so like, “Who’s the best advocate for your cause in the world?” And my answer’s real simple, it’s Vladimir Putin.
[00:09:27.02] PREET: So why does, so, I mean I think we’ve established that he’s a, at least some people think he’s a clever guy, you know strategically and tactically smart. So why does he do it?
[00:09:38.04] BILL: Well I think you’re, you’re overestimating him a bit. Or people are overestimating him a bit. He’s not stupid for sure, but he’s not strategic. He’s very tactical, and he’s also very emotional and very reflexive, and so there’s a thing that goes on in Russia which is that like, you know if you do something they have to do something back to you. It’s just like, nobody can like wait quietly for their next move, and so everything we do sort of provokes a reaction and every reaction that we provoke ends up creating more sympathy for the cause or awareness of the cause. I mean after Putin mentioned me in Helsinki, I started getting phone calls from politicians in European countries that I’d been working on all saying, you know, “Putin has shown his cards, we now know how much he cares about this. To the extent that anyone was questioning the efficacy of the Magnitsky Act, if he’s bringing you up and he’s bringing up Magnitsky, then it’s obviously a good thing, how do we get moving on this thing?”
[00:10:32.24] PREET: No I think absolutely. When you mentioned on the show last time, that it gets under Putin’s skin, I’m sure that some listeners were skeptical and thought, “Well it sounds very self important on Bill Browder’s part, how do you know, he’s a powerful person, he leads a, you know, decent sized country, as you have said, he has 200 Billion dollars potentially in holdings around the world so how can this get under his skin?” And then when he affirms that, and makes it obviously true, it gives you a lot of credibility.
[00:10:59.23] BILL: I’ll tell you something really funny is that, I got a lot of phone calls from journalists before the summit, kind of coming to me as a person who knows Putin well as a Russian expert and commentator, you know they’re asking me questions and so on and sort of a couple days before the summit I was thinking about putting out a tweet which I had actually even drafted, saying, “I wonder if Vladimir Putin is gonna bring up my name at the summit.” And I wrote it out on Twitter, and then I thought, “You know…” I then erased it, ’cause I thought, “You know what, that just sounds so self centered and self important. People are going to really make fun of me.”
[00:11:31.02] PREET: And it’s actually kind of better that he mentioned your name as lawyers would say, “Sous vante” (?) without provocation.
[00:11:36.25] BILL: I mean it’s not without provocation, I actually did provoke him and I should point this out…
[00:11:40.20] PREET: Wait, so you didn’t send the tweet, you slid into his DMs, is that what happened?
[00:11:43.24] BILL: So I didn’t send the tweet, and this wasn’t particularly intentional, but Time Magazine got in touch with me a couple days before the summit and said, you know, “You want to write something about the summit and your feelings about it?” I said, “Yeah sure!” And so, I wrote a letter, to Donald Trump, an open letter to Donald Trump saying, “Dear President Trump, let me tell you a few things about Vladimir Putin.” And I put a bunch of things in, I said that he’s a bald faced liar, he’s a cold blooded killer, he doesn’t negotiate, he will lie to you and trick you, etcetera etcetera. And I put all this into this letter, and then one of my guys said, “Well, you know, we should probably translate this into Russian.” And so we translated it into Russian and I put it on the Echo Moscow Radio blog, which is one of the last places where you can actually put stuff that’s not favorable to Putin, and it got something like 400,000 or maybe more downloads, which is like a record for this blog. [00:12:37.18] And I’m sure that someone in Putin’s camp saw it, and I think that it, I think they were intending to bring me in the private meeting with Trump, but they got so, Putin got so provoked by this that he decided to like lash back at out at me, which is why he brought me up at the public meeting, which as we’ve agreed is quite helpful to my cause.
[00:12:56.25] PREET: Right so, let’s talk about Helsinki for another minute. That’s where President Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin, they were alone together for I think two hours, plus. Do you have any doubt that, well I guess we don’t have any doubt because it’s been mentioned after the fact but, what amount of that time do you think they were talking about you and the Magnitsky Act?
[00:13:18.09] BILL: I think that they probably spent a majority of the time talking about me and the Magnitsky Act. And again that may sound self important, but this is something that really, truly upsets Putin. And we can look back over history and say, you know this wasn’t the first time that they brought me and the Magnitsky Act up. If you remember, and this is all in code, but in Hamburg, at the G20 meeting in July of 2017, Trump had a big dinner with all the other heads of state, Trump went over to Putin and they sat down and talked for quite a while, and then when Trump was asked what did they talk about, he said adoptions.
[00:13:51.07] PREET: Right, which is code for the Magnitsky Act.
[00:13:53.20] BILL: Russian adoptions were banned in reaction to Magnitsky, and neither of them were talking about adoption, they were talking about me and Magnitsky. And then a year before that, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the famous Russian lawyer, on behalf of the Russian government, was in Trump Tower, and meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, talking about again, me and Magnitsky. And so, this has been going on for quite a while this is not, this is real obsession of Putin’s and I’m quite confident that a majority of the time was spent talking about me and Magnitsky. And furthermore, by the way, so the day after the summit, when Putin brought me up in relation to SWAP (?) of me versus these 12 GRU agents, which were indicted in the Mueller investigation, so the day afterwards the Russians then said, “We have a whole bunch of other people we would like to be swapped as well,” and they made a list of people [00:14:50.21] and on that list, the top of the list, was Mike McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, and then you had a whole bunch of other people. Kyle Parker, who was the person in the US Senate who drafted the Magnitsky Act, Bob Otto, a senior US intelligence officer who verified all the facts of the Magnitsky Act. You had David Kramer, former US State Department official who was at Freedom House, who helped me lobby for the Magnitsky Act. Jonathan Weiner, another former State Department official who conceived of the Magnitsky Act, and then three members of the Department of Homeland Security. Three special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, who investigated the money laundering, from the crime that Sergei Magnitsky had exposed, that came to New York. And so everybody on the list was somehow connected to Magnitsky.
[00:15:37.14] PREET: Right, making very clear that that’s, was foremost on Vladimir Putin’s mind. Let me ask you this, so you were not in Helsinki, were you watching the public press conference meeting at which your name was mentioned? Or did you go back and watch that later?
[00:15:51.17] BILL: So what happened was I was actually on vacation, I was beginning my next book, and I had sort of tried to isolate myself in a quiet place where I could focus with my computer, and I was sitting there, and I had my phone face down, and it just started vibrating. My phone just kept on vibrating and vibrating and I was sort of really temptec not to look at it, ’cause I was trying to concentrate, but it just sort of wouldn’t stop, and so I turned it over and there was a whole bunch of missed calls and a whole bunch of notifications on Twitter, and text messages, all saying, “Bill, have you watched the summit? Do you realize what’s going on?” And at that point I logged into the summit and I had an opportunity to watch it after the fact.
[00:16:33.13] PREET: So what did you, so you watch it, and you hear him invoke your name in front of the world, first was that surprising to you? Was it upsetting to you? Did you think, strategically as we’ve been discussing, this is gonna be helpful to me in the cause that I”m pursuing, what was your reaction in the moment?
[00:16:50.05] BILL: Well so I had two different reactions. My reaction to Putin was, this is not surprising, this is like the 5th time he’s mentioned me in public. The thing that I did find a little surprising and a little upsetting was the fact that Trump didn’t shoot him down right there and then and say, “That’s ridiculous, we’re not gonna do that.” Far from it.
[00:17:06.17] PREET: He made reference to something being an incredible offer. What did you understand Trump was referring to when he said, “Incredible offer”?
[00:17:13.04] BILL: So the trade was, Putin said, “Okay, Mueller has indicted these 12 GRU agents, we’ll give Mueller access to those agents. In return, we would like to have access to Bill Browder, and a bunch of American government officials and intelligence officers, who we believe are part of the Bill Browder criminal group.” That was the incredible offer that was being proposed, and to add insult to injury, when this was then discussed at a press conference with Sarah Huckabee Sanders a few days later, the New York Times asked her, “Well are you gonna do that deal?” And she said, “Well we’re considering it.”
[00:17:53.13] PREET: Right, we have no announcement on that at this moment. Separate apart from you, the implications of such a thing go far beyond you and Ambassador McFaul and others, it means basically that this administration at least for a while made it appear that, and maybe it’s still true, made it appear that they would consider swaps of American citizens and perhaps UK citizens like you are, to a murderous, thuggish, regime based on no evidence. What do you make of that?
[00:18:21.07] BILL: Well I mean it’s abhorrent. It’s unbelievable, I mean it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Now I never believed that it would actually go through, even if he wanted it to, because the rule of law in the United States on so many different levels would prevent it, but the fact that he thought it was a good idea and the fact that he didn’t reject it outright was quite disturbing in terms of his own judgement about this whole thing. I mean the most important condemnation of that came the next day when the senate voted unanimously, 98 to zero, to reject this offer.
[00:18:53.16] PREET: They don’t vote unanimously on anything anymore. So, I asked you this question last time, I know you’ve been asked this a lot—how much do you worry about your own personal safety? And has that worry increased or remained constant over time?
[00:19:06.08] BILL: The perception is that, that my risk has gone up. The reality is that my risk has always been high. I’ve known for a long time how infuriated Putin is with me and how much I’ve gotten under his skin, and so I’ve been in a sort of danger zone for a long time now, and there’ve been lots of different incidents where they’ve tried to get me in different ways, and I don’t feel more in danger, in a certain way I’m less in danger by the fact that Putin is being so public about it because it sort of limits some of their opportunities, because everyone will know Putin did it, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to get me. The most aggressive ways that they try to get me are through extradition and interpol as opposed to just knocking me off on the street, because if they can get me back to Russia, they can kill me quite easily with full plausible deniability, whereas….
[00:19:56.29] PREET: But how important, I’m sorry, when you say, “plausible deniability,” you believe that Vladimir Putin attempted to kill Sergei Skripal in the UK, correct?
[00:20:07.23] BILL: I do, yes.
[00:20:09.05] PREET: And lots of people believe that to be true, right?
[00:20:11.19] BILL: Yep.
[00:20:13.07] PREET: And he must have known, Skripal was someone who acted in an intelligence capacity and who’s one of the people traded for the 10 spies that my office prosecuted back in 2010, and Putin would have to know that if someone like Sergei Skripal was assassinated under suspicious circumstances in the United Kingdom, that blame would fall on him, right? Do you think he cares or not? How important is plausible deniability, really?
[00:20:46.07] BILL: Well I think that he thought he could get away with it, the same way as they thought they could get away with Litvinenko’s murder, the person who was murdered in London using polonium 210. I don’t think that he thought that they would find out what the compound was and be able to identify it, and identify it back to Russia. And I mean, so what Putin hates more than anything are consequences. He likes to do things where he can invade a country and say, “It wasn’t me.” Or shoot down a plane and say, “Prove it.” Or dope in the Olympics and say, “You can’t prove it.” And he hates getting caught, because getting caught has consequences. So, what were the consequences of Skripal? Well, all the sudden, all sorts of Russian spies are being kicked out of every country in the West, oligarchs are losing their visas, and they’re now seizing properties of oligarchs, and life is very complicated and the US even started sanctioning Russian oligarchs. And those are really serious consequences which he doesn’t like. [00:21:41.19] And so I think that if he had known what the consequences would be of Skripal he wouldn’t have tried that.
[00:21:48.14] PREET: And just to remind people, Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a novichok nerve agent while they were in the UK. And both survived, but just barely.
[00:21:58.05] BILL: They survived just barely, but they survived and they’re constantly messing up these assassinations. Same thing with Litvinenko, they tried three times to kill Litvinenko with this radioactive material back in in 2006. Three attempts, before they finally got him, and when they did get him, when they figured out that it was plutonium 210, they went around with their guy that picks up polonium 210, and they like, found, it was almost like a Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs, the assassins just left everywhere they went, and so by the time they figured it out they could trace it exactly to who did it, they found it in the sink of the hotel room where Andrey Lugovoy was staying, he’s one of the alleged assassins, and they found it on his seat in the airplane flying back to Moscow, and all sorts of stuff. People attribute all sorts of evil genius to these Russian, what I call KGB operations, but these are really sort of sloppy, sloppy amateurish stuff that they’re doing, and they get caught. [00:22:55.11] And everytime they get caught there’s consequences and Putin hates that. And so a lot of the stuff that they do, they prefer to do in Russia where they can do it and there’s no consequence because there can never be an investigation. And so even Boris Nemtsov. Boris Nemtsov was a previous first deputy prime minister, became an opposition figure, really going head on against Putin. And he was shot and killed right in front of the Kremlin in February of 2015, and the government said, “Well this is terrible,” and they prosecuted a couple of Chechen hit men, and claimed that that was it. And of course, the order probably came directly from Putin, but nobody was ever going to hold him responsible in Russia for this.
[00:23:34.18] PREET: Can I ask you a question, and this may seem bizarre, but people have been asking you—do you think that Putin would ever authorize an action like that, an assassination or killing, on American soil? Or is that a bridge too far?
[00:23:47.14] BILL: I’m hoping he won’t! (Laughs)
[00:23:49.18] PREET: So am I! So am I, so are a lot of people. But, in other words are there limits, you say obviously that the easiest way to get that dirty work done is to do it on Russian soil, but they’ve clearly gone beyond that in the UK. What about America? Particularly when you have someone who appears to be oddly and suspiciously a close ally of his in the White House?
[00:24:12.16] BILL: Well so here’s what I would say, first of all, his close ally, or what he thinks is his close ally in the White House doesn’t control you know the guys in the FBI who are doing an investigation. But people often say to me, “Bill you’d be a lot safer in American than you would be in England, ’cause look at all the assassinations in England.” And my response to that is that the assassinations in England are per capita, there’s just a lot more Russians living in England and so therefore more of them are being killed over here. I mean there was a guy named Vladimir Lesin, Vladimir Lesin was the guy who started Russia Today television and all the other propaganda in Russia, and he apparently had like turned over to provide evidence to the Department of Justice on some Russian money laundering. And then all of the sudden he was found dead from blunt force trauma in his hotel room in Dupont Circle. And strangely the Washington DC police labeled it not suspicious. I don’t know how you get blunt force trauma that’s not suspicious [00:25:11.10] but in any case, it’s not as if these things don’t happen in America, and I guess if Putin felt suitably enraged he would do it anywhere. I don’t think there’s any geographic constraint for what he’s doing. And there’s certainly a lot of Russians who enter America and do this if that’s their order for him, for them to do.
[00:25:32.10] PREET: Now I don’t want to increase your level of jeopardy, so I’m not gonna ask you what particular precautions you might take for your personal safety, but do you take precautions and think about doing things one way or another to protect yourself? Or do you decide, “You know what? If it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen, you can’t live that way,” and you just do what you would otherwise do?
[00:25:54.05] BILL: So the answer is that I take a huge number of precautions, I have all sorts of different protocols, to make it more difficult. But I don’t live in fear. If they really want to rub so novichok on my doorknob, I can’t just stop touching doorknobs, living in fear. But I certainly do things, obvious things, sort of precautionary measures to make it harder for them to succeed if they try.
[00:26:18.08] PREET: So, you know you are fortunate enough to have resources, and you got your money out of Russia in time, and so I assume that some of the precautions you take, the protocols you follow, require resources. What about some of the other people on this list, like how should some of them be? Like the senate staffer Kyle Parker? Do you give them advice, and do you talk as a community, you know talk about the potential threat?
[00:26:42.13] BILL: Well we all talk, we’re all friends, we’re all allies, we all talk together about this stuff. But in this, I mean in the case of Kyle Parker, or the case of Mike McFaul, it’s truly a shocking situation because…so Kyle Parker didn’t stay up every night until 11 o’clock for two years, writing the Magnitsky Act for any glory. You’re mentioning his name, I mentioned his name in my book, but you know, nobody knows Kyle Parker. He’s not doing it for great money, he’s on a government salary. He did it for service to his country. He did it as an American patriot who has devoted his life to public service. And in return, he’s now being targeted by the Russians, and he deserves the full support and protection of the government that he’s been serving. [00:27:30.26] And the fact that there was any hesitation on the part of Donald Trump to his protection, is the most shocking part of this whole story.
[00:27:41.26] PREET: Has it ever occurred to you to be less outspoken? Or, is that part of how you accomplish your goals? In other words, if you were less of a thorn in Putin’s side, would that enhance your safety? Or do you not think about that?
[00:27:55.21] BILL: Well I think it probably is just the opposite. I think that if I’m irrelevant, I’m easier to kill and no one would care.
[00:28:01.28] PREET: I would care.
[00:28:02.27] BILL: Well you would care, thank you, I mean my friends would care, but that the world wouldn’t. And you wouldn’t care nearly as much. But there’s one other overriding factor in this whole thing, which is that the objective that I’m trying to maximize is not my probability of survival, the objective I’m trying to maximize is that Vladimir Putin’s government, his regime, and him by definition tortured, for 358 days, and killed, Sergei Magnitsky, who was my lawyer. And Sergei was effectively killed as my proxy. He would still be alive today if he hadn’t worked for me. And from that, I have this overriding feeling of responsibility, of guilt, and of duty, to go after the people who killed him and make them face justice. It’s my burning indignation about this terrible, unfixable injustice that drives me every day to try to get some justice for Sergei. And that justice is what’s upsetting Putin. [00:28:58.03] Sergei didn’t back down, in far more precarious circumstances than I’m in. He was sitting in their custody, and so it’s my duty to him, and I will continue to exercise this duty to go after the people that killed him and make sure every last one of them faces justice.
[00:29:13.23] PREET: Good. And we are glad you do that. And one of the things that you do in your work is to travel. When you were last here, there had been five times I think that you were detained in some country based on the Russians sort of taking advantage of interpol. And there was another one in between your last visit to the show, and today you were in Spain, not too long ago. What happened there?
[00:29:36.28] BILL: It’s a remarkable story, so as I mentioned, one of our tasks is to find the money that Sergei Magnitsky uncovered and was killed over, and we found some of that money, a lot of it, like 30 million Euros, going to buy properties on the coast of Spain, by Russians. And I had taken that evidence and submitted it to a very famous prosecutor is Spain, a man named Jose Grinda. Jose Grinda, is one of the most fearless prosecutors in the world, like you, and he had gone after Russian gangsters, Russian government officials, and prosecuted nearly 50 of them in a previous case. And I had submitted this information to prosecutor Grinda, and he invited me to come to Spain to explain the evidence on the 30th of May, and we made an appointment to meet at 11 AM in his offices. [00:30:26.01] So I go to Madrid, to Spain, I arrive the night before on the 29th, and on the morning of the 30th, at about 9:30 AM, as I’m walking out of my hotel room to get breakfast before my meeting with the prosecutor, there are two policemen standing outside my door, having just approached. They asked me for my ID, I present it, and they compare it with a piece of paper they have and they say, “You’re under arrest.” And I say, “What for?” And they say, “Interpol, Russia.”
[00:30:53.24] PREET: And you’re like, “Here we go again.”
[00:30:55.15] BILL: (Laughs) And so at this point, the manager of the hotel was with them and he said, he said to them in Spanish, “Can you give this man a moment to pack his bags?” So while I was packing my bags I surreptitiously tweeted out, “Urgent, I’m being arrested in Madrid on a Russian interpol arrest warrant, they’re taking me to the police station now.”
[00:31:15.25] PREET: Right, I saw that tweet. A lot of people saw that tweet.
[00:31:18.07] BILL: I knew when I sent that out that was gonna get people highly agitated, and interestingly the policemen didn’t confiscate my phone. And so they then sort of take me down, put me into the police car, and I thought, you know, “Maybe people aren’t gonna believe it. Maybe they’ll think it’s some kind of hoax.” And so I decided to take a picture from the back of the police car. So I took a picture, and you could see that I was clearly in the back of the police car, and I tweeted that out, and to the extent that there was any question as to whether I was being arrested or not, that satisfied that question, and from that moment on it just, the whole thing went viral. And so normally when you’re arrested in a situation like this, your lawyer calls up the prosecutor, and the lawyer tells the prosecutor, you know, “This is a big mistake, this is gonna be a huge scandal. This is wrong. This is bad.” And the prosecutor says, “Yeah everybody says that.” And then, you know over the course of several months the scandal [00:32:13.00] then emerges, and then they decide that actually, he was right, and they let you out. In the meantime you’ve spent three months, or six months sweating in a Spanish prison. But because I had tweeted it out, by the time I got to the police station, like two hours into it, everybody in the whole world realized that this was like the most shocking miscarriage of justice, and scandalous arrest, and interpol general headquarters called up the SPanish police and said, “Release this man immediately,” two hours into it, and I was released and that was the end of the story. And there was literally like 178 missed calls and 600 emails and so that was pretty dramatic, and thankfully I was out after two hours. And I even got to see prosecutor Grinda, I was only 45 minutes late to my meeting, and carried on with the process.
[00:33:01.14] PREET: Are there countries that you won’t go to because you’re concerned about interpol?
[00:33:06.08] BILL: Yeah, I would say that most countries I won’t go to. Basically any country that doesn’t have a rule of law, I won’t go to, and that’s most countries in the world. So, I’ll travel to United States, Canada, you know some of the big, safe European countries, but I’ll never go to…for example I was invited by members of parliament in Italy about an Italian Magnitsky Act about a month ago, and this was after the whole Madrid incident, and that the new prime minister of Italy is a very pro Putin prime minister. And so I cancelled that trip, because I didn’t want to be a pawn in some favor for Putin.
[00:33:48.06] PREET: Do you assume that all your communications are being listened to by the Russians?
[00:33:52.21] BILL: I assume so, and in fact…
[00:33:55.14] PREET: In that case, can you stop emailing me, Bill?
[00:33:57.07] BILL (Laughs) Well I think that you’re not on their party invitation list either, so. I don’t think you have to worry, in fact for those listeners who don’t know, Preet is on the anti—the first person on the anti-Magnitsky list that the Russians created after the Magnitsky List was formed, so you’ve got full validation…
[00:34:15.04] PREET: Although I will go to Italy. I will not go to Russia but I will definitely go to Italy.
[00:34:19.24] BILL: The Turks may get you in Italy, so, be careful.
[00:34:21.13] PREET: Well, you know it’s funny I have this personal reason for being interested in the trevails of you and Michael McFaul and others because, there has been talk of Trumped up allegations against me, by Erdewan in Turkey and so, I’m following all this business with Interpol very very closely myself.
[00:34:39.05] BILL: Well Interpol needs to be fixed. There’s a serious problem at Interpol which is that dictatorships, corrupt regimes have the same access to Interpol as civilized countries, and they use it to chase their enemies, and there’s really effectively no consequence if they abuse Interpol, it’s entirely possible and even probable that this happens to Mike McFaul and Kyle Parker, and these other people in the US government and it’s entirely possible that the Turks can use it against you. And one of my big advocacy plans is to try to get Interpol reformed and so that these dictatorships can’t abuse it, because Interpol is a system that should work to catch fugitives and shouldn’t be used by criminal regimes to go after their enemies.
[00:35:24.15] PREET: If you need help on that, we should, let’s talk offline. But don’t email me.
[00:35:29.06] BILL: (Laughs) Okay.
[00:35:30.01] PREET: I’m on board with the reform of Interpol for those purposes as well. We’re almost out of time, so I wanted to ask you, you know a couple of broader questions. What do you think is the outlook for Russia, for Russian-US relations, for you know the mission that you have with the Magnitsky Act, what can we see in the future given the craziness we’ve seen so far in recent times, in Helsinki and in other places?
[00:35:55.21] BILL: Let’s start with the disease. The disease is kleptocracy and corruption. Putin has stolen a lot of money, and I would say effectively all the money from his people. So his Russian people are angry. In order for Putin to stay in power, with a bunch of angry people, he’s gotta do two things: one is he’s got to deflect the anger, and so he’s creating problems all over the world, he’s invading countries, creating enemies, and the second is he’s got to repress his people, through dictatorship. And both of those create their own set of problems, because the West doesn’t like him to create problems, and they sanction him. And by sanctioning him, it reduces the economics even further, and by reducing the economics even further he’s got to then create more problems…Putin is never going to stop creating troubles in the West, and It’s just going to get worse and worse. And while there may be this strange inappropriate, cozy relationship between [00:36:53.02] Trump and Putin, there isn’t between anywhere else in America, and Putin, and there is absolute seething anger and rage among the people in the congressional branch who are not going to tolerate Putin and this stuff, and…
[00:37:10.17] PREET: Though they’re not as outspoken as you might hope them to be. Notwithstanding that vote…
[00:37:14.11] BILL: Well, this is all just a brief moment in time, and what I can say is that when the full weight and force of the United States ultimately comes down on Russia, it’s going to be devastating. And it may not come while Trump is president, maybe it does, but it will come because that’s the way everybody else feels. And it’s not just, it’s not just the United States. Here where I live, in Great Britain, you know there use to be a huge tolerance of a lot of bad stuff that Russia’s doing, there isn’t anymore. And it’s politically, totally unacceptable, and I see that everywhere I’m going. And so, I think Russia becomes more and more isolated, I don’t think that Putin is going to be able to long term get away with this stuff. I don’t think he’s a strategist who thinks long term, and he’s doing himself no favors in terms of all this aggressive stuff, but in a certain way he has no choice because, if he wasn’t creating all this anger towards the West, they’d be angry at him, and he’d be out of a job and in jail pretty quickly.
[00:38:04.21] PREET: That’s a great diversion.
[00:38:06.10] BILL: Indeed. That’s exactly what it is.
[00:38:08.25] PREET: So Bill, one thing I want to ask you as we end. After your last appearance on the show, a lot of people who were moved by the story and believe in the cause you’re fighting, wanted to know how they could help, and what they could do. What do you say to those people?
[00:38:22.10] BILL: The best way to help is to be outspoken in social media, in person, wherever possible, about the displeasure and anger towards this stuff, that’s what moves politicians, that’s what moves policy, and the more people who sympathize with me and this cause speak out, speak out on Twitter, speak out on Facebook, against all the Russian bots. That’s the way to keep this process moving in the right direction so that our leaders understand that that’s the real mood of the people and of the country.
[00:38:57.20] PREET: Those are fine words to end with, Bill. Thank you again for being on the show. I want you to know I hope that you know this, there are lots of people who are pulling for you, who are worried about your safety and want you to be safe, but also want you to continue to do this great work that you’re doing. You were inspired by Sergei Magnitsky but the work you’re doing is inspiring lots more folks as well. So I wish you luck, and we’ll check in with you soon. If you need any help, don’t forget to Tweet, and we’ll be there for you.
[00:39:24.08] BILL: Thank you so much.