The life of Viktor Bout, a jailed Russian arms dealer in the United States linked to a possible swap for two US citizens detained by Moscow, sometimes reads as a far-fetched espionage thriller goes.
Before his 2008 arrest on multiple arms smuggling charges, 55-year-old Bout, who was called a ‘merchant of death and a ‘ban buster’ for his abilities related to arms smuggling, was one of the world’s most wanted men.
Bout had become the world’s most notorious arms dealer for nearly two decades. He was selling weapons to rogue states, rebel groups and assassin warlords in Africa, Asia and South American films on the life of Bout.
Such was the Bout’s notoriety that a 2005 Hollywood film, Lord of War, was produced on his life, starring Nicolas Cage as Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer based on the Bout..
Victor Bout was a talented linguist. He used his perceived command of English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Persian to build his international arms empire. He also achieved the rank of lieutenant. In addition, he worked as a military translator in Angola, which later became the centre of his trade.
The first significant success of the Bout came after the fall of the Communist Bloc in 1989–91. During this, there was a sudden shortage of Soviet-era weapons to fuel a series of fraternal civil wars in Africa, Asia and beyond. The Bout well capitalized on this opportunity.
When the Soviet Union’s vast air fleet disintegrated, Bout acquired a squadron of about 60 old Soviet military aircraft out of the United Arab Emirates. This allowed him to supply his products all over the world.
In a 2007 biography by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun titled ‘Merchant of Death: Guns, Plains and the Man Who Makes War Passable’, Bout described his arms smuggling empire from a base in the Gulf Emirate of Sharjah as a simple logistics business—added with. Bout, who first appeared on CIA radar amid reports of Russian civilians trading weapons in Africa, was one of the world’s most wanted men at the turn of the millennium.
Bout’s clients possessed rebel groups and militias from the Congo to Angola and Liberia, who put business above politics. In Afghanistan, according to ‘Merchant of Death, he sold various guns to Islamic Taliban insurgents and their enemies in the Western Northern Alliance.
Bout supplied guns to former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor, who is now serving a 50-year prison sentence for murder, misdemeanour and terrorism. In addition, they also supplied weapons to various Congolese factions and the Philippine Islamic terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
The Bout was tracked in 2008 by the US Drug Enforcement Administration at a luxury hotel in Bangkok after an elaborate sting operation in several countries. During a sting operation, Bout was captured on camera posing as a representative of Colombia’s left-wing FARC Guerrilla 100 surface-to-air missiles, agreeing to sell the weapons to covert US agents, which US troops would use. he was about to be killed. Shortly after that, he was arrested by the Thai police.
Members of a particular police unit escort the Bout after a criminal court hearing in Bangkok on October 5, 2010.
After more than two years of diplomatic wrangling, in which Russia insisted that Bout was innocent and that his case was politically charged, Bout was extradited to the United States.
Here, he faced several charges, including supporting terrorists, conspiring to kill Americans, and money laundering.
Bout was convicted in 2012 by a court in Manhattan and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Since then, the Russian state has been eager to get him back.