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Viktor Bout, Arms Dealer:: His Rise and Fall

Probably the most, well-known arms traders. After Adnan Khashoggi.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, right, escorted by Thai police commandos, arrives at Bangkok's Don muang airport on Tuesday Nov. 16, 2010. Thailand extradited Bout to the U.S. to face terrorism charges, |  Source-AP Photo; courtesy - THAILAND OUT.

Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, right, escorted by Thai police commandos, arrives at Bangkok’s Don muang airport on Tuesday Nov. 16, 2010. Thailand extradited Bout to the U.S. to face terrorism charges, | Source-AP Photo; courtesy – THAILAND OUT.

Viktor Bout, an arms dealer of Ukrainian origins, a Russian citizen, was arrested during a US DEA sting operation, in Thailand in 2008, before being extradited in 2010 – and finally convicted and sentenced by US Courts in 2012.

Subject of a 2005 Hollywood film, ‘Lord of War’ based on his life, running foul of US authorities, he was set up for an arrest in Thailand.

Two things.

One – During the time that Viktor Bout was active, the US President was also suspected to be involved in the Iran-Contra scandal – as an arms dealer and in money laundering.

Two– As the Soviet Union collapsed, citizens of their country could no longer get adequate State protection – which would have been unthinkable till the 1980s.

Nobody, but nobody, messed with Soviets – or Soviet citizens.

A small part of the Viktor Bout story below.

Viktor Bout (C),  Russian arms dealer, in U.S. custody after being flown from Bangkok to New York Photo: AP

Viktor Bout (C), Russian arms dealer, in U.S. custody after being flown from Bangkok to New York Photo: AP

One morning in late December, I went to the prison to meet Bout. In a conference area, a few prisoners, wearing brown jumpsuits without handcuffs, sat in plastic chairs, holding legal documents. When word reached the guards that Bout was headed downstairs, they cleared out the other prisoners and covered the room’s sole window.

The sound of chains and jangling keys heralded his arrival. Surrounded by two guards, Bout inched forward, shackled at his ankles, wrists, and waist. The guards unfastened his cuffs, then left Bout and me alone. He wore an orange jumpsuit, navy slippers, and orange socks. Gesturing toward the guards, he said that watching over him had “become almost a religion for them.” We sat at a circular table. His voice was soft, his sentences punctuated by wan smiles. “The special-housing unit?” he said. “Solitary confinement? Even the U.N. says that solitary confinement is torture.” (He was referring to a recent report by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, which had called for a ban on solitary confinement.) “I am being tortured twenty-four hours a day.”

Gerald Posner, a journalist and a lawyer who had advised Bout for a time, pro bono, recalls that when they first met Bout hadn’t wanted to discuss his case; rather, he wanted to “talk about black holes and how Stephen Hawking was overrated.” I have a faltering grip on two of the languages Bout speaks—Persian and Urdu—and, after exchanging pleasantries in them, Bout dilated on the legacy of Persian poetry, which he called “the language of love,” and the importance of reading Ferdowsi’s epic poem “Shahnameh” for understanding the Iranian, Afghan, and Tajik psyche. Recently, he said, he had read several books about harsh detention and survival. He praised Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” and encouraged me to read Henri Charrière’s “Papillon.”

We met four times, between late December and mid-February. Two weeks after my first visit, having started “Papillon,” I pointed out that toward the beginning of the book Charrière lays out his plan to seek revenge on the people responsible for his incarceration. I asked Bout if he felt similar rage. “Why should I feel aggressive toward these people?” he said. “They are sleepwalking men.” He went on, “The D.E.A. has become worse than drug dealers. At least drug dealers have ethics.”

The longer we sat in the small, musty room, the more the tempered side of Bout’s personality receded. I asked whether he felt any remorse. “I did nothing in my mind that qualifies as a crime,” he replied. “Sure, I was doing transportation of arms,” he said. “But it was occasionally. Three hundred and sixty days were normal shipments. For five days, I shipped arms and made a couple of hundred thousand dollars.” (Mirchev, by contrast, recalls a period of “almost daily flights” for UNITA.)

As for his fateful lapse of caution, he said, “If it was a trap and I fell into it, O.K. But what did I do? Did I declare myself to go to fucking Colombia? Did I grab a gun and go to kill an American? I just want a big country like China or Russia to do this to an American. Will you also call it justice?” He was practically spitting out the words. “This is not justice. It’s a minefield. What you people don’t understand is that it’s coming for you next. You’re living in a police state. Everything your Founding Fathers got, you’re giving back. It’s like Stalin’s time. You can be arrested for just saying—no, thinking—something. ‘Oh, he’s an arms dealer,’ they say. Why do they say this? Because I’m Russian!”

Bout had stood up and was leaning across the table, his face inches from mine. “Do you people have the moral standing to ask this question? Who are you to judge me? You have authority over me, but you don’t have power over me!”

On February 3rd, Dayan requested that Bout be moved out of solitary confinement. In a hearing five days later, Judge Scheindlin agreed, saying that Bout’s prison conditions seemed “brutal” and “unnecessary.” On the tenth, Suzanne Hastings, the warden at the prison, appeared in court to tell Scheindlin that she thought Bout’s status was “appropriate,” as he posed a threat to the guards, other prisoners, and himself.

“I don’t know what to say,” Scheindlin replied, adding that Bout struck her as “a businessman.” She went on, “You may not like the business he is in—but he is a businessman. I never heard any evidence that he personally had been involved in violence or terrorist acts. . . . He is an arms dealer. We have lots of arms dealers here, too. Sometimes they cross the lines as criminals, sometimes not. This is a business.”

On February 24th, Judge Scheindlin ordered that Bout be transferred to the general prison population. “Although I recognize that courts are loathe to interfere with questions of prison administration,” she said, “I cannot shirk my duty under the Constitution.” This ruling not only improved Bout’s immediate circumstances; it also seemed like a signal that Scheindlin would not recommend that Bout be assigned to the kind of “super-max” facility that keeps all inmates in solitary confinement—a prospect that Dayan recently compared to being “buried alive.”

A long prison term still awaits, however. On March 12th, Bout, who turned forty-five not long ago, will receive a sentence of between twenty-five years and life. “They will try to lock me up for life,” Bout told me. “But I’ll get back to Russia. I don’t know when. But I’m still young. Your empire will collapse and I’ll get out of here.”

via Viktor Bout, Arms Dealer, and His Rise and Fall : The New Yorker.

I am glad that that no Indians figured as a significant player in this tale across the world.

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