Actor Gérard Depardieu emigrated to Russia to pay lower taxes. In April, Pavel Durov left Russia, and his lucrative business there, because, he says, he values freedom — his own, and the idea — more than enormous wealth. "In my days in Russia, I visited some very rich guys," Durov tells The New York Times. "I visited big ships, private airplanes, houses — and I know for sure I don't want this for myself."
The iconoclastic young founder of Russian social network VKontakte, more popular than Facebook among Russians, was also prompted to sell his stake (for millions of dollars) and flee after a SWAT team showed up at his door in 2011, he says. That near-miss inspired him to launch the venture he's now promoting, Telegram, a secure messaging app. Durov, who has been bouncing from country to country for the last few months and considers himself "a legal citizen of the world," was in San Francisco this week promoting Telegram.
Durov started VKontakte in 2006, borrowing openly and heavily from early Facebook — he was celebrated "as Russia's Mark Zuckerberg," notes The Times' Danny Hakim. "The best thing about Russia at that time was the internet sphere was completely not regulated," Durov told Hakim in a rare in-person interview. "In some ways, it was more liberal than the United States." But President Vladimir Putin has increasingly cracked down on internet freedoms. "Since I'm obviously a believer in free markets," Durov added, "it's hard for me to understand the current direction of the country." Read more about Durov's life and flight at The New York Times.