Putin's ‘number one enemy’ says the Russian leader and oligarchs have stolen $1 trillion from the people

A leading expert on Russian political corruption estimates President Vladimir Putin and his oligarch cronies have stolen as much as $1 trillion from the Russian people since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Speaking at a New York event to promote his new book "Freezing Order," Bill Browder - who was a major investor in the country until he was targeted for retribution by Putin for calling attention to government corruption - said, "That was money that was supposed to be spent on health care and education, roads and services."

Browder, who describes himself as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "Enemy Number One", has led an anti-corruption campaign in memory of his whistle-blowing former employee Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison.

Magnitsky went public with details of massive fraud by Russian state officials before being charged with tax evasion and later dying in detention in 2009 after a year in jail.

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Browder, a US-born British citizen, headed a major investment firm in Moscow in the 1990s and 2000s but fell afoul of the authorities and has since been convicted in absentia of tax evasion and deliberate bankruptcy.

He says most people look at Putin and Russia through the wrong lens.

“Everyone tries to think about Russia as a sovereign state and Putin as a leader acting in national interest,” Browder said to Yahoo News, describing that outlook as a fundamental misunderstanding. “You think you can apply political science to Russia. You need to apply criminal science. You need to be a criminologist to understand Russia. People don’t go into government to serve the country. They go into government to steal money.”

Browder also has harsh words about lawyers, bankers and others who have been helping Russian oligarchs hide their wealth in London, the United States and elsewhere around the world. “They’re just a bunch of greedy bastards that are trying to make as much money as possible,” he said. “They don’t care who they’re working for.”

The financier also thinks attention paid to the dramatic seizures of oligarchs' super-yachts is a distraction. “The real money is held in highly complex trusts and structures,” Browder said, in offshore havens like Jersey and the Cayman Islands.

With additional reporting by AFP

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