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Two Russian Oligarchs And Their Families Found Dead In Two Days; Mourners Gather At Funeral For Patrick Lyoya Killed By Officer; FL Gov. To Sign Stripping Disney's Self-Governing Status. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 22, 2022 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Developing this morning. A mysterious series of deaths are both classified as murder-suicides, both involving former Russian gas executives. They were found dead alongside their families within a 24-hour period. The bodies of one along with his wife and daughter were discovered in Spain, the other along with his wife and daughter, were found dead in Moscow. CNN's Nic Robertson is following this for us, he joins us now. Nic, what are the details here, and who are these men?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the details are a bit gruesome. Sergey Protosenya, 55 years old, former oil executive in Russia living in a house just outside Barcelona here in Spain, now the Spanish police discovered him dead in the garden and his wife and daughter dead inside. They're dead inside the house. Spanish police have sealed that investigation while they're working on it so we're not getting many details there. We are getting a few more details from the Russian investigation for the murders that appeared to happen the day before Monday this week.

Vladislav Avayev and his wife and daughter were found dead in their Moscow apartment. Now, their nanny and driver alerted Russian authorities or at least at first, alerted a relative of the family. They say we're trying to get through to them inside their apartment, they're not answering the phone, the door is locked, we can't get in. The police say that they discovered all three of them dead with gunshot wounds.

Now, the Russian authorities are saying they're treating this as a murder-suicide, which is in many ways, tantamount to saying nothing to see here, nothing suspicious about this. Of course, having both these former oil executives die one day apart, both of them, apparently, it appears on the surface of it killing their wives and daughters, leaves a lot of room for speculation looking at Russia's historic track record of being prepared to reach out and kill people who are criticizing the Kremlin and President Putin. There's certainly been a number of deaths associated with that in the past.


ROBERTSON: Now, it's not clear that they have spoken out about President Putin but certainly there's an atmosphere of toeing the Kremlin line being pushed in Russia right now.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Nic, thank you so much. And joining me now is Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management. He was one of the largest foreign investors in Russia until he exposed Kremlin corruption in 2005. He is the author of a new book, Freezing Order: A True Story Of Money Laundering, Murder, And Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath. Bill, thanks for being here.


BOLDUAN: So do you think there is something more sinister going on here with these gas executives that we're just hearing?

BROWDER: Well, it seems awfully suspicious. I mean, I don't know any of the forensic details of either of these two stories but when business people die -- Russian businesspeople die, I think one kind of has to assume the worst first to eliminate that before going to natural causes of death. And, you know, we're in a very taut moment in Russia, money is scarce. All sorts of people are under a lot of pressure and it could easily be the most heinous outcome -- I mean, the scenario could be, you know, what -- the worst-case scenario, not something less heinous.

BOLDUAN: And that kind of gets it to me -- I would love you to describe the dynamic and the relationship between men like these, wealthy gas executives, or oligarchs, as we often are hearing about, and Vladimir Putin. How beholden are they to him and vice versa?

BROWDER: Well, so the most important thing to understand is that Vladimir Putin is the Mafia Boss. He is the guy in charge of everything. And nobody has any influence over him at all. But he's also the president of the country, not just a mafia boss and so if he wants to accumulate vast sums of money he has to find people to hold that money for him because he can't do that legitimately without being blackmailed as president.

And so the oligarchs of Russia, these rich guys on these rich lists that you hear about all the time, these are the people who hold his money. And so as we talk about what do we do to punish Vladimir Putin, and how do we freeze his money, we can't freeze his money by just putting him on a sanctions list, we have to put on the sanctions list all of these rich guys, all these oligarchs, and freeze their money in order to get to him.

BOLDUAN: You know, President Zelenskyy, actually, in his nightly address warned Russia that the sanctions it's already been hit with, and will be hit with if this continues, will make Russia as poor as it was after the 1917 Civil War. I'm curious, if you agree, in what impact do you think the sanctions are having -- forget on Vladimir Putin, but on the Russian economy?

BROWDER: No. I don't quite agree with that because there's one huge elephant in the room. And he's also pointed this out, which is that while we're sanctioning Russia, while we're freezing the oligarch assets, while we're freezing the central bank assets, etcetera, every day, the West, and mostly Western Europe, is sending Putin a billion dollars for the purchase of Russian oil and gas.

And so, they're getting literally hundreds of billions of dollars a year, this carries on from the West and that doesn't make them poor, that that gives them a lot of money, particularly when the oil prices are so high. And so the last big part of this jigsaw puzzle of sanctions is to stop buying Russian oil and gas. And that's going to be a big ask for countries like Germany, where nearly half of their gas comes from Russia, and other countries like Austria and Italy, where nearly 100 percent of their gas comes from Russia but in order for us to start Putin of the financial resources to conduct this war, that has to stop.

BOLDUAN: And given what you know about Vladimir Putin and what we've seen so far in this war in Ukraine, where do you think -- where do you think this war goes next?

BROWDER: Well, unfortunately, I think that this word doesn't go anywhere next. I think this war carries on and carries on and carries on. It's very clear that Vladimir Putin has no intention whatsoever, of backing down. He's not a person who compromises any peace agreements. If they were ever agreed, would just be temporary because he doesn't -- he's not a person that -- he would do that for tactical reasons, but not, not any other way.

And on the other side, I think that the Ukrainians are not going to accept the loss of their territory, and they've fought hard up until now and they've been fighting very well up until now and so I think that this is going to go on and go on and go on.


BROWDER: And unfortunately, as it goes on, we're going to learn so many terrible heartbreakings, tragic things about what's happened to the Russian people -- I mean, I'm sorry, the Ukrainian people about -- in this war and it's -- in it's just, you know, it's not going to be something that's going to be resolved anytime soon.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Bill Browder, thank you for coming in.

BROWDER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And a quick programming note, the unbelievable true story of the man who took on Putin and live to expose the truth. The Sundance award-winning CNN film, Navalny, airs Sunday at 9 p.m. right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: All right. Right now, what you're looking at right here are live pictures of the funeral for Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the 26-year-old who came to the United States in 2014. He was fleeing violence in Congo then. He was shot in the head and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop earlier this month. His death has sparked protests across the state.

CNN's Jason Carroll is here with me now. Jason, what has been happening here so far?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as we're looking there, these services should be getting underway in just a few minutes from now. They're the Renaissance Church of God in Christ in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We've already seen Lyoya's mother overcome by grief as you can expect holding her picture of her son, as we saw her being comforted by loved ones there at the church.

Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy. The family attorney Ben Crump, civil rights attorney is expected to speak there as well. We heard from Lyoya's mother yesterday. When we saw a number of protesters who had marched to the state capitol demanding answers surrounding the incident, including there, was Lyoya's mother who told the crowd my heart is broken, deeply broken.

Lyoya, as you say, was killed by a Grand Rapids police officer during a traffic stop on April 4, a combination of videos showing Lyoya refusing to stay in his car, there was a short chase, a struggle, apparently for the officer's taser. Then a video shows the officers shooting Lyoya when he was on the ground. And an autopsy commissioned by the family which was released just earlier this week is showing that Lyoya was shot in the back of the head.

His family is calling for the officer in question here to be fired and prosecuted. That officer is on paid leave. His police powers have been suspended. His name is not being released pending the outcome of an investigation by Michigan State Police. Lyoya was a father of two. He was a Congolese refugee.

Many members of the community are there right now at that church, the Renaissance Church of God in Christ offering any comfort they can give to the family, but a lot of outrage there in the community and still a lot of unanswered questions.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. That investigation is still ongoing. Thank you, Jason. I appreciate it. I'm going to go to Pittsburgh right now where the manhunt continues for the suspects who opened fire inside a rental home party killing two 17-year-olds. Family and friends of Jaiden Brown are gathering last night to mourn his senseless killing.

Brown's funeral is underway right now. The other teen killed, Mathew Steffy-Ross. He will be laid to rest tomorrow. So far, no suspects had been named or arrested in this case. Police say the gunman fired more than 90 rounds inside the rental home that was packed with teenagers using an AR-15-style weapon.

Coming up for us. Florida's governor prepared to sign a bill into law that strips Disney of its self-governing status. What happens if and when that goes away? We'll discuss.



BOLDUAN: The Florida State Legislature is passing a bill that strips Disney of its special self-governing status and it's now on the way to the governor's desk. It is political retaliation for Disney speaking out against Florida's controversial Don't Say Gay law. What this fight though now means for Florida taxpayers is becoming a big question. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is following all of this from Tallahassee for us. Dianne, what is going on with this? It is political retaliation but is it clear yet what the real fallout could be if the governor signs this?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, the governor will likely sign this because he's the one who put it on the call. He expanded this special session call for this specific bill. But here's the thing, Kate. I don't know if anyone can actually tell you it's clear what's going to happen because even the bill authors could not answer those questions when asked on the floor this week.

Stripping Disney of its special district status would inevitably, according to the way state law is written right now, shoulder much of its debt and expenses on the counties that Disney occupies. According to testimony and comments from lawmakers this week here in Tallahassee, we're talking about potentially adding up to $2,800 per household to property taxes just to deal with the debt that they would have to absorb because Disney runs this sort of this special district, Reedy Creek, that does everything. We're talking about its emergency services, its fire department, but also handling Disney's debt. And so the finances are serious.

But there's also the concern from lawmakers on whether they can actually do this. And I spoke with one state senator who said that she had been in contact with Disney executives. They had attorneys looking at this because the law states that to dissolve a special district, the residents of that special district must first vote to do so. That's a state statute that was not repealed here this week.

And so, it does seem to be at least in slight conflict, if you will, with what was passed by lawmakers in a very rapid succession yesterday, Kate. So they're not really sure and I do want to point out that the effective date would be June of 2023. The answer to most questions when they didn't know was we have a year or so to figure it out and we can do it during that period of time.


BOLDUAN: Oh, I'm sorry. I was going to say is there time for an off- ramp? It seems the answer to all of this is standby to standby and we will see. Dianne, it's really good to see you. Thank you so much for laying that out. I really appreciate it. Thank you all so much for being with us AT THIS HOUR. I'm Kate Bolduan. INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts after this break.