‘Merchant of Death’ to Stand Trial
A Thai appeals court ruled Friday to extradite Russian businessman Victor Bout, one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, to the U.S. to stand trial. Bout, 43, has been in the custody of the Thai government since 2008, when he was arrested in a U.S.-orchestrated sting operation in Bangkok. His arrest set off a legal and diplomatic tug of war between the U.S. and Russia over where he would stand trial.
At the end of the Cold War, Bout is said to have used his connections inside the Russian military to raid the former superpower’s storehouses, walking away with thousands of guns, rocket launchers, and even tanks and planes.
Bout, who was born in Soviet-ruled Tajikistan and is believed to speak six languages, allegedly supplied conflicts in Africa, South America and the Middle East, and had ties to Charles Taylor and the Taliban. But his ability to make clandestine deliveries made Bout useful to the U.N. and the United States as well. According to “Merchant of Death,” the 2007 book by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, Bout delivered humanitarian aid on missions for the U.N., and also made deliveries for the U.S. Department of Defense and private U.S. military contractors.
In a 2009 interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News, Bout denied dealing weapons to al-Qaida or the Taliban.
Nicholas Cage’s character in the 2005 film “Lord of War” is loosely based on Bout.
For more on Victor Bout:
- Meet Viktor Bout, the Real-Life ‘Lord of War’ – Mother Jones – 2007
From Mother Jones’ interview with author Douglas Farah who wrote the book on Bout, we learn that Bout was able to sell “attack helicopters, anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank mine systems.”
- Arms and the Man – New York Times – 2003
Peter Landesman takes a close up look at Bout for a New York Times Magazine profile in 2003, helping readers understand how this man made a fortune transporting everything from gladiolas, and chickens to diamonds and eventually arms and Bout’s eco-friendly admiration for wildlife and pygmies.
- Government Deal with a ‘Merchant of Death’? – Newsweek – 2004
- The Merchant of Death – Foreign Policy– 2006 (Subscription Required)
Michael Isikoff and Newsweek dove into the web of front companies Bout had set up, including ones that were subcontracting with Kellogg Brown & Root, even after President Bush signed an executive order for all government agencies to stop doing business with Bout.