Viktor Bout’s infamy

Lord of War fans, among others, who are awaiting the upcoming trial of real-life gun-runner, the Russian businessman Viktor Bout in New York next month, have been given a glimpse of how things may go by the Judge’s pre trial rulings. The Judge has indicated she believes Bout only “transported” arms, and that his name recognition will make it nearly impossible for him to get a fair jury trial (read more). 

Bout, featured in our documentary Devil’s Bargain, has been considered an ingenious arms dealer who defied United Nations investigators for years while supplying weapons to all sides in wars from Angola to Afghanistan. Bout was master of working in the “grey zone” – where loopholes in a largely unmonitored trade in small weapons are, in the words of one UN investigator “big enough to fly an Antonov through”.

 DEVIL'S BARGAIN | PHOTO

DEVIL'S BARGAIN | PHOTO

 DEVIL'S BARGAIN | PHOTO

DEVIL'S BARGAIN | PHOTO

The international trade in small arms, the real weapons of mass destruction, has defied any meaningful International Treaty since many of the biggest arms producers in the world have refused to endorse one. Those same governments, including China, Russia and the United States (until the Obama Administration), were all major clients of Bout’s. He navigated a world in which end-user certificates could be bought “under the table” at many embassies, and shipments of guns could be recycled, from one war to another. He built up his transport empire by buying fleets of old Soviet cargo planes for next to nothing and hiring out of work Russian pilots who worked for cash, with no questions asked and lots of daring do.

Bout has always proclaimed he ran an upfront business. He certainly had the blessing of the Russian government, who fought for his extradition from Thailand, where he was held for two years after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency captured him in a sting operation in which he was caught supposedly entering into a weapons - for - drugs deal with FARC. It always seemed odd to me that it was the DEA who got Bout – after all he’d been on Interpol’s RED ALERT list for years, and so many other U.S. agencies, not to mention foreign governments, claimed to want him arrested. But perhaps his “name and shame” list was just to long to risk exposure.