Jeff Bezos on Thursday briefly topped Bill Gates as the world’s richest man following a spike in Amazon
shares, according to data crunched by Forbes. But if Bill Browder’s numbers are correct, the massive fortunes of both tech giants combined still wouldn’t stack up to the real richest man in the world.
“I believe [Vladimir Putin] is worth $200 billion,” the CEO of Hermitage Capital Management told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the same day Bezos made his fleeting move. Browder was testifying as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections.
Browder, once a shareholder of Gazprom, Surgutneftegas and other state-run enterprises, is well-versed on the topic, considering his company was once the biggest portfolio investor in Russia.
Putin’s path to billions, according to Browder, has been paved with extortion, torture and property seizures. Specifically, Browder detailed the story of the suspicious death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whom he hired to investigate official corruption in Putin’s Russia.
Magnitsky was charged with a massive tax fraud that he and Browder had originally uncovered on the part of others. Magnitsky died during his pretrial detention, reportedly from being denied medical treatment. Browder spent the next few years lobbying Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which would prohibit those responsible for Magnitsky’s death from entering the U.S. and gaining access to the U.S. banking system. Obama signed the law in 2012.
As for all those rubles, Browder described the moment everything changed for Putin and the course of Russian politics.” Back in 2003, Putin arrested the country’s biggest oligarch and richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and televised his trial, including images of him in a cage in the middle of the courtroom.
“That image was extremely powerful, because none of the other oligarchs wanted to be in the same position,” Browder said. “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: 50%”
And not 50% for the government, it was 50% for Putin himself, Browder alleged.
“From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world,” he said, “and my anticorruption activities would no longer be tolerated.”
While Putin’s official asset disclosure includes a yearly salary equivalent to $133,000 and a modest Moscow apartment, the rumored trappings of his immense wealth include a billion-dollar palace, four yachts and dozens of jets and helicopters.
Watch Browder’s full testimony: