By 1996, the party in Russia was in full swing. The oligarch class had come into full bloom, the Russian mafia was siphoning millions of dollars out of Russia, Bill Browder started his own firm, and Yeltsin was reelected the previous year. In fact, things were looking better than ever for Browder who left Salomon Brothers after almost four years to open his own firm, Hermitage Capital, with investors Edmond Safra, the banking giant behind the Republic National Bank of New York, and Israeli billionaire and diamond magnate, Beny Steinmetz.  According to Browder’s book, he initially met Steinmetz during his jet-setting days at Salomon and it was only a few years later that Steinmetz reached out to Browder about investing in Russia.  Shortly thereafter, Steinmetz set up a meeting between Browder and Safra, a Brazilian Jewish banker who had been deeply involved in finance well before Bill Browder came along. Here’s what I wrote about him previously,

“According to the, he was the ‘descendant of a banking dynasty from Syria’ and a ‘colossus of the finance world who established banks across Brazil, Switzerland and the United States.’  However, according to The Guardian it was rumored that Safra was connected to ‘drug, gold and currency trafficking, money laundering and organized crime’ as far back as 1957.  And although the article demurred about Safra’s involvement with the Iran-Contra affair, there’s no disputing that at least two of his bank employees were involved according to the final Walsh report.  The New Yorker also reported that ‘many of Safra’s clients had been Russians alleged to have criminal ties’ and a U.S. prosecutor once remarked, ‘Republic always had some very interesting customers who find the government looking at them, more so than maybe other banks.’” 

In a 1996 article entitled, “The Money Plane,” published by New York Magazine which detailed how the “Russian mob gets a shipment of up to a billion dollars in fresh $100 bills,” Edmond Safra’s bank, Republic National, was directly implicated. After reporting that the Russian mob had long been using “an unimpeded supply of freshly minted Federal Reserve notes to finance a vast and growing international crime syndicate,” the author of the article, Robert Friedman, asked the obvious question, “So then why are Republic National Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve continuing to supply millions of crisp, clean $100 bills to banks that so many money-laundering experts agree are tainted?”

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