Russia’s Putin ‘Never Heard Of’ Barred Hedge Fund Manager

Jun 2 2008 | 1:02pm ET

Former Russian President Vladimir Putin says he “never heard of” hedge fund manager Bill Browder. But Putin, who now serves as the country’s prime minister, was asked about Browder’s situation—he has been barred from Russia since 2005 as a threat to “the security of the state, public order or public health”—two years ago, and gave a testy response.

At the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July 2006, a reporter asked Putin about Browder, a U.S.-born British citizen who runs hedge fund Hermitage Capital Management, once the largest foreign holder of Russia stocks.

“To be honest, I don’t know why this particular person has been refused entry to Russia,” Putin shot back. “I can imagine that this person has broken the laws of the country, and if others do the same, we’ll refuse them entry, too.”

But in a Friday interview with a French newspaper, Putin sang a different tune.

“I never heard of that name before,” Putin told Le Monde. “If this person thinks his rights have been violated, let him go to court.”

Browder and Hermitage claim they are the victims of corporate identity theft, resulting in the ban. But before getting the boot, Browder butted heads with several Russian companies with close ties to the Kremlin, including natural gas giant Gazprom and oil company Sturgutneftegaz.

“Russia is a large country,” Putin explained to Le Monde. “There can be difficulties, conflicts with the authorities, business or personal disputes. That’s life.”

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