Viktor Bout is a Russian arms dealer who was convicted by a US court in 2011 for conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. He was released in 2022 in a prisoner exchange for American basketball player Brittney Griner.
According to some sources, his net worth is estimated to be around $6 billion, making him one of the richest and most notorious criminals in the world.
In this article, we will explore his biography, career, and achievements in more detail.
Viktor Bout Biography
Early life and education
Viktor Bout was born on January 13, 1967, in Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union (now the capital of Tajikistan). He has an older brother named Sergei Bout. He is of Ukrainian ethnicity and became a Russian citizen after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. He graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow in 1987, where he learned several languages, including English, French, Portuguese, and Arabic. He also studied at the Moscow Aviation Institute and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Bout served as a translator in the Soviet Air Force from 1987 to 1991. He was stationed in Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia during the Cold War. He claimed that he was involved in humanitarian missions and peacekeeping operations, but some reports suggest that he was also involved in covert arms deliveries to Soviet-backed regimes and rebel groups. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bout left the military and started his own business.
Bout became an arms dealer in the early 1990s, using his contacts and knowledge of the aviation industry to acquire surplus weapons and aircraft from former Soviet states. He established a network of shell companies and air cargo firms that operated in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. He supplied arms to various governments, militias, warlords, and terrorists, including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, FARC, UNITA, RUF, Charles Taylor, Laurent Kabila, and Robert Mugabe. He also traded in diamonds, gold, oil, timber, drugs, and other commodities. He earned the nicknames “Merchant of Death” and “Sanctions Buster” for his willingness to bypass embargoes and sell weapons to anyone who could pay.
Investigation and Conviction
US sting operation and arrest
Bout came under the scrutiny of several governments and international organizations for his role in fueling conflicts and human rights violations around the world. In 2000, he was accused by British minister Peter Hain of being the chief sanctions-buster and a merchant of death who supported rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone. In 2002, he was sanctioned by the United Nations for violating arms embargoes on Liberia and Angola. In 2004, he was added to the US Treasury Department’s list of specially designated nationals for providing material support to terrorist organizations.
In 2008, Bout was arrested in Thailand by Thai authorities in cooperation with American agents and Interpol. He was lured into a sting operation by undercover DEA informants who posed as representatives of FARC, a Colombian rebel group. They offered him $15 million for 100 surface-to-air missiles and other weapons that they claimed would be used against US forces in Colombia. Bout agreed to the deal and was captured on tape discussing the details.
Bout’s arrest sparked protests from Russia, which claimed that he was innocent and that the US had violated his rights. Russia accused the US of political motivation and interference in Thailand’s judicial system. Russia also offered legal assistance to Bout and demanded his extradition to Russia. However, Thailand rejected Russia’s requests and approved Bout’s extradition to the US in 2010 after a lengthy legal battle.
U.S. prosecution and conviction
Bout was extradited to the US in November 2010 and faced trial at a federal court in Manhattan. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied any involvement in arms trafficking or terrorism. He claimed that he was a legitimate businessman who only sold air cargo services. He also argued that he was entrapped by the US agents who fabricated evidence against him.
However, the jury did not believe his defense and found him guilty on all counts in November 2011. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison in April 2012 by Judge Shira Scheindlin, who said that she gave him the minimum sentence because he had not committed any actual crimes but only agreed to do so as part of a sting operation.
Viktor Bout Net Worth and Achievements
Bout’s net worth is difficult to estimate due to his secretive and complex business dealings. However, some sources have claimed that he amassed a fortune of around $6 billion from his arms trade and other ventures. He reportedly owned several properties, vehicles, aircraft, and bank accounts in various countries. He also had connections with influential politicians, businessmen, and criminals around the world.
Career highlights and accomplishments
Despite his criminal activities and convictions, Bout has also achieved some notable feats in his career. He was one of the most successful and prolific arms dealers in history, who supplied weapons to dozens of countries and groups across continents.
He was also a skilled pilot and entrepreneur, who operated a fleet of over 60 aircraft and several companies.
He was fluent in several languages and had a vast knowledge of global affairs and markets. He was also a master of disguise and evasion, who used multiple aliases, passports, and identities to avoid detection and capture. He was the inspiration for the main character of the 2005 film Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage.