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Posts Tagged ‘Russian Mafia’

red-notice

Bill Browder started his career on Wall Street and was drawn first to Eastern Europe and then to Russia shortly after the Soviet Union broke apart. He started an investment fund and eventually became the largest foreign investor in Russia. In the process of privatizing, Russia ended up with twenty-two oligarchs owning 39 percent of the economy, while everyone else lives in poverty. In that environment, by investing in Russian businesses, Browder made a fortune for himself and his clients.

Then he noticed some anomalies within the companies he had invested in. Big chunks of the companies were stolen, leaving the investors diluted. As he drilled down into the complex schemes underway, he discovered massive fraud involving investors, regulatory agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, and government in general, up to the highest level. He found that Russia was basically a criminal enterprise designed to suck the resources out of the country into the pockets of a few dozen people, legitimized by the status of Russia as a powerful nation.

As Browder keep digging into the corruption, he met with more and more resistance, and soon people started getting killed. The book tells the story of Sergei Magnitsky, one of Browder’s lawyers, who was tortured and eventually killed by the Russian authorities. When Browder starting fighting back, Putin himself came after Browder and his life was never the same again.

Browder lives in London, and at one time in 2012 he came to San Diego for a vacation:

Things quieted down during the recess, and I enjoyed a properly relaxing vacation with my kids for the first time in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to just let go and unwind. In the middle of our trip, my kids begged me to take them camping. We borrowed a tent and some sleeping bags, and I drove the family to Palomar Mountain State Park, an hour and half drive north of San Diego, where we got a campsite for the night. We brought wood from the ranger station and made a campfire and explored the forest. David cooked and we ate a dinner of spaghetti, tomato sauce, and hot dogs off plastic plates. As night fell, owls hooted and other birds cooed in the treetops, and the smell of burning wood filled the air. It was one of the best evenings I’d had in a long time. When I returned to London, I was recharged and ready for the final push.

— Browder, Bill. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (p. 344). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

I have been to that campground many times, and it brought the story into my emotional neighborhood.

Today, when Russia and Putin is so prevalent in the news, and when the Trump administration seems to be cozy with Putin and Russia, this book is an absolute must read for everyone in the world. Russia is not what it seems. Whatever it may be, it’s also an organized crime machine. Putin is arguably one of the richest men in the world. How does that happen on a government salary?

If you have ever thought of doing business of any type in Russia, just read Red Notice, and you will never, ever have that inkling again. Even travel to Russia becomes as risky and unpleasant proposition. If you have wanted to travel to Russia, just read Red Notice and get it out of your system.

Enter Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon and buddy of Putin. After reading Red Notice, I cannot imagine how Tillerson and Exxon got into their position with Putin without having participated in some massive, illegal scheme. Of course, I don’t know what that is. I am sure we’ll find out about it in the years and decades to come. But I would not trust Rex Tillerson paying for a round of beers with my credit card if he were a bartender. Having him become Secretary of State after having read Red Notice is an absolutely frightening thought.

Having our government with Trump and Tillerson in the lead be cozy with Russia is the most dangerous and ominous prospect imaginable. Is our own government now starting to drift toward Russian-type corruption? It certainly looks that way, and Trumps actions with regard to anything Russian sure make me very suspicious.

I love the Russian culture, its history, its people and its art. I have read Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Their novels are some of my favorite in the world. The Russian people are smart, educated, and hard-working. But their government is miserable. And the country is hopelessly corrupt. 75 years of communism have destroyed their ability to show initiative and create honest businesses and governing structures. 25 years of post-communism have raided the country of its resources and put all the wealth into the hands of – well – twenty-two oligarchs. Read about them on the Forbes list. After reading Red Notice, it’s obvious that you have to be a thug to be that rich in Russia.

In the world of Trump and Putin – every American, and every world citizen, must read Red Notice. It will open your eyes unlike any book you have read in a long time.

Rating - Four Stars

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Equalizer

McCall (Denzel Washington) is a mysterious loner. He lives a quiet, simple life of a working man. He works at Home Mart (which looks exactly like a Home Depot), spends his free time reading classics and frequents a diner when he can’t sleep at night, which seems every night.

But occasionally skills show through that are far from the ordinary. McCall helps underdogs and he stands up against predators. In the picture above, the guy with the hoodie (did it have to be a hoodie?) is holding up a cashier at Home Mart and after he gets the money from the cash register, he asks for her diamond heirloom ring. McCall happens to witness the event, assesses the situation, and advises the cashier to give up the ring. Not long after, Hoodie finds out that this time he has messed with the wrong guy.

Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a hapless prostitute that keeps showing up at the diner night after night. McCall doesn’t see the prostitute, but a helpless, lost and very young girl. When he finds out she is under the control of ruthless Russian gangsters, he takes his savings and decides to buy her freedom. With an envelope of cash, he walks alone and unarmed into the gangster den. When the Russians don’t take the offer, they also find out that they have messed with the wrong guy.

This starts an all-out war between one man (it’s like Rambo) and the entire Russian mafia, reaching from New York all the way to Moscow.

I don’t know too much about the Russian mafia, thank goodness, but the way it is portrayed in this movie scares me. It is organized in a military fashion, supported by the highest levels in Russia, utterly brutal, and with complete disregard for the rights we Americans take for granted. Seeing entire warehouses full of American cash on pallets ready to be shipped to Russia, money from drugs, prostitution, and extortion of all types illustrates the magnitude of the operations. I don’t know if this is really going on, but if it is – it’s staggering.

I happened to read the article Killer Business – An investor turned activist outfoxes the oligarchs in Russia in Time Magazine of March 2, 2015, page 100, just a few days after watching The Equalizer, and that article confirmed my assumptions.

Russia appears to be a completely corrupt nation, all the way to Putin, its president, who many assume to be the “richest man in the world” simply because the oligarchs all pay him off so he props up their criminal activities, at home in Russia, sucking the Russian people dry, and in the west, sponsoring the activities of the Russian mafia.

This is a topic for another post someday. Back to The Equalizer.

Highly entertaining, this is a Rambo-like movie with more subtle sentiment but plenty of action and violence, stacked with really bad villains and a flawless hero to root for.

And finally, I’ll never see a Home Depot in exactly the same way again. Now I see all the weapons.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

 

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