News / Asia

Three Questions: Prosecuting the 'Merchant of Death'

Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout sits in a holding cell on 8 March 2008, following an appearance at Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand.
Suspected Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout sits in a holding cell on 8 March 2008, following an appearance at Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand.

Viktor Bout was reputed to be one of the biggest illegal arms dealers in history until he was arrested in a U.S.-led sting operation in 2008. The 43-year-old Russian national allegedly tried to sell missiles and other weapons to U.S. agents posing as members of Colombia's notoriously violent rebel group, FARC.

Since then, he has been fighting extradition to the United States from his prison cell in Thailand. On Tuesday, a Bangkok court dropped money laundering and wire fraud charges against Bout, the so-called "Merchant of Death," removing a key legal obstacle that had stopped Thailand from sending him to the United States.

VOA discussed Bout's case with William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. Hartung says Victor Bout shrewdly capitalized on the worldwide surplus of arms at the end of the Cold War, taking advantage of his military contacts and loose international regulations to build an international, full-service arms dealing business.

In terms of why the United States wants to get their hands on him, why they want to extradite him here, what is the U.S. interested in learning from him?


"Well, I think to some degree the more that can be learned about illicit arms networks, criminal networks and what's happening with guns and other equipment left over from the Cold War, the better.  If the United States is going to try to have influence in places like Somalia, if it's going to curb, or otherwise, try to quiet conflicts in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, the more they can learn about these networks, the better.  And, of course, they will also get access to some former Soviet weapons. But I think they're pretty well informed on that stuff, so that would be a secondary interest, if at all."

How important is it are these sort of series of arrest of major arms traffickers, like Viktor Bout.  In an industry that makes an estimated $60 billion in a bad year, is any one person really going to make a difference?


"Well I think because Viktor Bout is kind of the 'King of the Hill' in terms of illicit weapons trade, I think, prosecuting him would have not only a symbolic effect but a practical effect.  And the question is whether similar prosecutions can be pursued against other big dealers.  It has been difficult because of conflicting laws in different countries, because of the ability of these people to find sanctuary in places that do not want to have them extradited. There has been a whole series of legal and practical obstacles to doing these prosecutions.  So, I think if they can show it can be done in the case of Viktor Bout, the ideal would be that some of that same political will and some of those same techniques could be applied to getting some of these other dealers out of the business. You know, ultimately, it's true there are enough people out there who know how to do this that one arrest is not going to make the difference. I really think it depends on what they do from here.  Is there a concerted effort to go after dealers more generally."

And is there a more concerted effort now to pursue arms traffickers?


"I think it's too early to tell. You know, I'm hoping that if they prosecute Bout, that it will provide some impetus for U.S. and other governments to go after other dealers... because it will demonstrate that it's possible to do so and that you can overcome the legal and other obstacles to doing this sort of thing."

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More