Jan 19, 2018
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made waves last week when he briefly unseated Bill Gates as the wealthiest person in the world, according to Bloomberg’s tracker. The two U.S. tech titans are jockeying for the lead at around $90 billion each. But according to Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder, they’re nothing compared to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose personal fortune Browder “believes” to be $200 billion.
Browder, who made the claim before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, is one of the best authorities on Putin’s business dealings. Browder was a major investor in Russia during the chaotic 1990s, when, according to Newsweek, he took stakes in former state-run enterprises such as Gazprom. During the same period, Browder cooperated with Putin in anticorruption efforts, but eventually found himself targeted by Putin. That conflict eventually led to the jailing and death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and in turn to the Magnitsky Act sanctions against certain Russian oligarchs by the U.S.
According to Browder’s testimony, Putin amassed his vast wealth by using political clout to coerce Russians who made similar investments to simply hand over large chunks of their holdings to him. Browder further claims Putin has a personal interest in reversing the Magnitsky Act, since many of those impacted by it “hold [Putin’s] money for him.” According to Browder, that includes some in U.S. institutions that is frozen or at risk of seizure.
Putin’s personal fortune has been a cause for immense speculation, while the Kremlin has consistently denied any accusations of improper business dealings by the country’s most powerful man. But Browder estimates that Putin’s wealth comes from a covert deal with some of Russia’s wealthiest officials in the early 2000s.
“Putin was originally fighting with the oligarchs when he first came to power,” Browder testified, harking back to the jailing of Russia’s once richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003. “When you go on trial in Moscow there’s a 99.7 percent conviction rate so they put you in a cage because there’s no presumption of innocence.”