Biting the bullet – The Lord of War gets 25 years behind bars

Biting the bullet – The Lord of War gets 25 years behind bars
02 Nov 2012

For 2 decades, Viktor Bout, the inspiration behind the Lord of War, has supplied dictators, rebels and warmongers with some of their favourite bloody toys. After an elaborate sting operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the world’s most notorious gun runner is finally pacing in his cage, leaving a large gap in the black market for weaponry. Do you have what it takes to run with the bullets?

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On 2 November 2011, the real ‘Lord of War’, Viktor Bout, was found guilty by a US jury for conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of arsenal to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group. His illustrious career as the world’s most infamous black market arms dealer was brought to a dramatic end as he was convicted on all four counts, including conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and provide aid to a terrorist organization.

Bout, a former Soviet air force officer and the subject of a book titled the ‘Merchant of Death’, had spent the last few decades jet setting in his private aircrafts and delivering weaponry to some of the world’s bloodiest warzones, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone . His shady dealings are estimated to have accumulated a personal wealth of $6 billion, and extend from the US to the Taliban, to guerrilla groups and dictators around the globe, often playing both sides of the conflict.

Bout was arrested in Bangkok on 6 March 2008 after he agreed to supply weaponry to US agents posing as FARC guerrillas with whom he shared a common enemy – “…those American sons of bitches.” The 100 ton cache was set to include hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 machines guns, 20 000 grenades, 740 mortars, 5 tons of C4 explosives, 350 sniper rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition. In the words of US attorney Preet Bhara, “Viktor Bout was ready to sell a weapons arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries.”

In August 2010, after a 2 year lobbying battle between Russia and the USA, Bout was extradited from Thailand to the USA in a clandestine military-style operation that Moscow deemed illegal.

During a 3 week New York trial which began on 12 October 2012, prosecutors explained how in 2007, agents for the Drug Enforcement Administration posing as FARC fighters approached a South African businessman, Andrew Smulian, with the intention of using profits from major drug deals to purchase weapons to kill American pilots working with Colombian officials. Smulian, 70, one of Bout’s close contacts, proceeded to visit Bout in Russia to alert him of the potential deal. Consequently, in March 2008, Bout flew to Thailand to meet the prospective buyers.

In the meeting which was recorded by undercover agents, one agent asserted: “Kill them, and kick them out of my country. They don’t care where they go any more. They go here, they go there. They go wherever they want. Why?”

“Yes, yes, yes. They act as if … as if it was their home,” concurred the Merchant of Death. “We have the same enemy.”

Bout’s lawyers remonstrated that their client was merely a businessman who ran air freight operations in conflict zones. His attorney, Albert Dayan, told the courts that Bout had no intention of selling weapons to the rebels. He alleged that “Viktor was baiting them along with the promise of arms, hoping just to sell his planes.” The prosecutors ridiculed the “planes-defence” and corroborated their case with the secretly recorded conversations from Bangkok.

The case was further hit by the testimony of Andrew Smulian who took the stand as witness for the US government as part of a plea deal for his own case. Smulian, who was accused of the same crimes as Bout, hoped to reduce his own prison sentence from a minimum of 25 years, by pleading guilty to all counts and testifying against his former associate. In his testimony, Smulian alleged that for a down payment of $20 million, Bout agreed to air-drop 100 tonnes of weapons into Colombia.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S Attorney Brendan Mcguire concluded that the “overwhelming” evidence against Bout proved that “he did everything he could to show that he could be a one-stop shop” for FARC. The guilty verdict was welcomed enthusiastically by anti-arms trade campaigners.

“The verdict in the Viktor Bout trial closes the book on one of the most prolific enablers of war, mass atrocities and terrorism in the post-Cold War era. We should all be grateful that the world is safer now that the man who armed the hotspots of the globe is behind bars,” said Kathi Lynn Austin, executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project and a former United Nations investigator.

The Russian government however, which is believed to have sheltered and defended Bout over the years, was not impressed, and doubted the fairness of the conviction. “Our goal is to try succeed in bringing him to his motherland,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

Bout, who is in possession of multiple passports and documents, is estimated to be in his late 40s or 50s. He was sentenced on 5 April 2012 to 25 years imprisonment by a U.S. judge.

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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