Putin is richer than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined, financier told US Senate

Putin is richer than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined, financier told US Senate
PHOTO: AFP

The world's richest man is not Microsoft founder Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos of Amazon, whose net worth briefly overtook the former last week.

Drum roll, please. The wealthiest man on the planet is apparently Russian President Vladimir Putin, and according to a renowned financier, he is richer than both of the tech giants combined.

Making the startling revelation at an unlikely event last Thursday (July 27) was Bill Browder who told the US Senate Judiciary Committee that Putin has "accumulated US$200 billion (S$272 billion)" seized from his vicious crackdown on corrupt officials and enemies.

In his sensational testimony, Browder, the former CEO of Hermitage said: "I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power.

"He keeps his money in the West and all of his money...is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation."

Testifying at a hearing on the interference of Russian officials in 2016 US presidential election, Browder said: "There are approximately 10,000 officials in Russia working for Putin who are given instructions to kill, torture, kidnap, extort money from people and seize their property."

Bill Browder gave his testimony to the US Senate.
Photo: Reuters


HOW PUTIN GOT RICH

Browder also claimed to have received many death threats from Russia for knowing too much about Putin and revealing them to the media and US politicians.

It all began when Browder, who founded Hermitage Capital Management, started offering investment advisory services in Russia in 1996.

He said in his written testimony, which was reproduced by the Atlantic: "While working in Moscow I learned that Russian oligarchs stole from shareholders, which included the fund I advised. Consequently, I had an interest in fighting this endemic corruption, so my firm started doing detailed research on exactly how the oligarchs stole the vast amounts of money that they did. When we were finished with our research we would share it with the domestic and international media.

"For a time, this naming and shaming campaign worked remarkably well and led to less corruption and increased share prices in the companies we invested in. Why? Because President Vladimir Putin and I shared the same set of enemies. When Putin was first elected in 2000, he found that the oligarchs had misappropriated much of the president's power as well."

Things changed in 2003, when Putin arrested Russia's biggest oligarch and richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said Browder.

He said: "Putin grabbed Khodorkovsky off his private jet, took him back to Moscow, put him on trial, and allowed television cameras to film Khodorkovsky sitting in a cage right in the middle of the courtroom. That image was extremely powerful, because none of the other oligarchs wanted to be in the same position.

"After Khodorkovsky's conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin's answer was, 'Fifty per cent.'"

"He wasn't saying 50 per cent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 per cent for Vladimir Putin personally. From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated."

The grave of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.Photo: Reuters


PUTIN WANTS US SANCTIONS REMOVED IN ORDER TO PROTECT HIS MONEY

In 2005, Russia regarded Browder as a "threat to national security" and threw him out of the country.

Browder retained his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who subsequently found out that Russian officials had stolen US$230 million that Hermitage paid in taxes to the Russian state and his investigation implicated Putin officials in a cover-up.

Russia jailed Magnitsky shortly after the discovery and he died under mysterious circumstances in prison a year later.

In 2012, the US imposed sanctions on Russian officials it held responsible for Magnitsky's death under the 2012 Magnitsky Act.

Browder also said Putin had launched a campaign to repeal the Magnitsky Act in order to protect the vast amounts of money, some of which was in American banks. Putin is not just gaining money from oligarchs that may be affected but they also "hold his money for him", said Browder.

"The purpose of the Putin regime has been to commit terrible crimes in order to get that money, and he doesn't want to lose that money by having it frozen," said Browder, according to the Voice of America.

If Browder's claim is true, then neither Jeff Bezos nor Bill Gates is a match to Putin when it comes to wealth (and not to mention power). 

chenj@sph.com.sg

 

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