February 15th, 2015
02:15 PM ET

Putin's net-worth is $200 billion says Russia's once largest foreigner investor

CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Bill Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, formerly Russia's largest foreign investor, and a once supporter of President Putin. He also describes the dynamics between power and wealth in Russia, claiming that during “the first eight or 10 years of Putin's reign over Russia, it was about stealing as much money as he could. And some people, including myself, believe that he's the richest man in the world, or one of the richest men in the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth that was stolen from Russia.”

TEXT EXCERPT

On Putin’s networth: “I believe that it's $200 billion. After 14 years in power of Russia, and the amount of money that the country has made, and the amount of money that hasn't been spent on schools and roads and hospitals and so on, all that money is in property, bank - Swiss bank accounts, shares, hedge funds, managed for Putin and his cronies.”

On Putin and his cronies: “These guys killed Sergei Magnitsky, my lawyer, for money. They all got rich, they all got bank accounts and villas and cars. Why should we allow them to come to America, travel to America, keep their accounts here, spend that money?”

On his relationship with Putin: So he became a business partner and then my - all of my activism became very inconvenient. At that point, I was not going after his enemies, I was going after his own financial interests. And so when I arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport in November in 2005, after living there for 10 years, I was stopped at the VIP lounge. I was taken down to the detention center of the airport. I was kept there for 15 hours, deported and declared a threat to national security. What I didn't realize then, and it's become absolutely plain and obvious to me now, based on my experience, is that Putin wasn't above it all, Putin was intimately involved in it all, and it wasn't like he was restraining the oligarchs - he was the biggest oligarch. And everything that he's done since then has come to prove that."

On power in Russia: “The power is very simple in Russia - whoever has the power to arrest people is the person in power. And so what Putin does is he has a bunch of guys around him who have the power to arrest people. And so it doesn't matter how rich you are, if you can be arrested, put in jail and have your money taken away, the guy who can do that to you is the most powerful person in Russia.”

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: To understand what motivates Vladimir Putin, we decided to call in a man who once helped him get rich. Bill Browder went from being Russia's largest foreign investor to being blacklisted from that country. The CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Browder was once a supporter of President Putin - that is until he was expelled from Russia in 2005 after being considered a "threat to national security."

Browder writes about his experiences in his terrific new book "Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice." He joined me recently to tell me what he learned about how the Kremlin works.

ZAKARIA: So you begin the book by - with this incredible story. You're the largest foreign investor in Russia. Your fund has returned 1,500 percent returns. You're managing $4.5 billion in capital at a time when that was real money. And you get to the airport and they put you on a plane and throw you out. What had you done that so pissed off the Russians?

BILL BROWDER, AUTHOR, "RED NOTICE": Well, I wasn't just a regular investor. I was what’s - what they - what's commonly referred to now as a shareholder activist. I started out being - just buying shares of Russian companies. Then I realized that the oligarchs and government officials were stealing all the profits out of these companies.

And so I thought the only way that I could run a sort of moral and profitable business would be to try to stop it. Basically, we'd research how they did the stealing and then we'd share it with the international media. And for about four years, this naming and shaming of Russian companies actually worked, because my interests coincided with Putin's.

He was fighting with the same guys I was fighting with. The oligarchs were stealing power from him and they were stealing money from us. And so every time I would publicize a scandal, Putin would step in and fix it. And so my profits went up. The company's profits went up. And I was feeling like the - I was feeling like the best guy in the world, because I was making money and doing good at the same time.

ZAKARIA: But then Putin makes a deal with all these oligarchs. And at that point, things start to change for you.

BROWDER: He arrested the richest oligarch in the country, then said to the other guys, if you don't want to be arrested, you need to share your money…

ZAKARIA: Right.

BROWDER: - with me.

ZAKARIA: Right.

BROWDER: So he became a business partner and then my - all of my activism became very inconvenient. At that point, I was not going after his enemies, I was going after his own financial interests.

And so when I arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport in November in 2005, after living there for 10 years, I was stopped at the VIP lounge. I was taken down to the detention center of the airport. I was kept there for 15 hours, deported and declared a threat to national security.

What I didn't realize then, and it's become absolutely plain and obvious to me now, based on my experience, is that Putin wasn't above it all, Putin was intimately involved in it all, and it wasn't like he was restraining the oligarchs - he was the biggest oligarch.

And everything that he's done since then has come to prove that.

ZAKARIA: Do you think Putin is about power or about money?

BROWDER: Well, let's say the first eight or 10 years of Putin's reign over Russia, it was about stealing as much money as he could. And some people, including myself, believe that he's the richest man in the world, or one of the richest men in the world, with hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth that was stolen from Russia. It's changed, though. It's mutated. All the...

ZAKARIA: Really? I mean you understand numbers and you understand these - the numbers of these Russian companies. You really think Putin is the richest man in the world?

BROWDER: I really think that, and I'm not just saying that crazily. I mean...

ZAKARIA: Get an estimate - estimate his net worth.

BROWDER: Two hundred billion.

ZAKARIA: Really?

BROWDER: I believe that it's s ‘. After 14 years in power of Russia, and the amount of money that the country has made, and the amount of money that hasn't been spent on schools and roads and hospitals and so on, all that money is in property, bank - Swiss bank accounts, shares, hedge funds, managed for Putin and his cronies.

ZAKARIA: And it would explain why he personally has so much power, right? It's not the power of the party or even the army you worry about, or the state?

BROWDER: The power is very simple in Russia - whoever has the power to arrest people is the person in power. And so what Putin does is he has a bunch of guys around him who have the power to arrest people. And so it doesn't matter how rich you are, if you can be arrested, put in jail and have your money taken away, the guy who can do that to you is the most powerful person in Russia.

ZAKARIA: The second half of your book is about this incredible campaign that you have - you have launched ever since the death of Sergei Magnitsky, your - the guy who was looking after your accounts and the legal issues surrounding them.

How did you manage to get people in the United States, politicians in the United States attention, focused on this issue?

BROWDER: Well, my attorney was Sergei Magnitsky. He was murdered for exposing government corruption, murdered in pretrial detention. And they covered up his murder. What they did to him was so evil and so heartbreaking and so well-documented, that when I went and told the story to members of Congress, it didn't matter whether you were the most conservative Republican or the most liberal Democrat, this is the one thing in Washington everybody could agree on, which was these people were bad.

These guys killed Sergei Magnitsky, my lawyer, for money. They all got rich, they all got bank accounts and villas and cars. Why should we allow them to come to America, travel to America, keep their accounts here, spend that money?

And everyone said, yes, that's easy. It doesn't cost anything to stop them from doing that. And so this started snowballing. And against the interests of the U.S. administration - the U.S. administration, at that time, wanted to play nice with Russia - we got the Magnitsky Law passed 92 to four in the Senate. It's the one thing that everyone in Washington could agree on.

ZAKARIA: Oil prices are down 50 percent. The Russian economy is being sanctioned. Banks are in trouble. How does this - how does this play out for Putin?

BROWDER: Well, there's the Zimbabwe-North Korea scenario, where he just runs Russia truly and absolutely into the ground and stays in power. And that could happen.

There's also the Ukraine/Georgia/Kyrgyzstan scenario, where people - the Russian people - say this - why are we allowing this man to ruin everybody's life?

He makes some decision, some small decision, it doesn't even have to be a big decision, which just sparks a million people on Red Square and they - and they get rid of him.

Or it could even be that some members of the army and the police decide, palace coup, let's get rid of him. We don't know.

But in the meantime, while he's still in power, he’s going to be running Russia into the ground and causing the West a lot of problems.

ZAKARIA: Bill Browder, a pleasure to have you on.

BROWDER: Thank you.
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