n many ways, Viktor Bout is a prototypical,modern-day, multinational entrepreneur. Heis smart, savvy, and ambitious. He’s goodwith numbers, speaks several languages, andknows how to seize opportunities when they arise.According to those who’ve met him, he’s polite, pro-fessional, and unassuming. Bout has no known his-tory of violence, and no political agenda. He loves hisfamily. He’s fed the poor. And through his hard work,he’s become extraordinarily wealthy. During the pastdecade, Bout’s business acumen has earned him hun-dreds of millions of dollars. What, exactly, does he do?Former colleagues describe him as a postman, able todeliver any package virtually anywhere in the world.Not yet 40 years old, the Russian national alsohappens to be the world’s most notorious armstrafficker. He, more than almost anyone else, hassucceeded in exploiting the anarchy of globalizationto get goods—usually illicit goods—to market. He’sa wanted man, desired by those who require a smallmilitary arsenal and pursued by law enforcementagencies who want to bring him down. Globe-trottingweapons merchants have long flooded the ThirdWorld with
-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, andwarehouses of bullets and landmines. But unlike hisrivals, who tend to carve out small regional territories,Bout’s planes have dropped off his tell-tale military-green crates from jungle landing strips in the Congoto bleak hillside runways in Afghanistan. He hasdeveloped a worldwide network of logistics, maneu-vering through a maze of brokers, transportationcompanies, financiers, and weapons manufacturers—both illicit and legitimate—to deliver everything fromfresh-cut flowers, frozen poultry, and U.N. peace-keepers to assault rifles and surface-to-air missilesacross four continents.His client list for weapons is long. In the 1990s,Bout was a friend and supplier to the legendary AhmedShah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance inAfghanistan, while simultaneously selling weaponsand aircraft to the Taliban, Massoud’s enemy. Hisfleet flew for the government of Angola, as well as forthe
rebels seeking to overthrow it. He sent anaircraft to rescue Mobutu Sese Seko, the ailing and cor-
Russian entrepreneur Viktor Bout has made millions as the world’s most efficient postman, able to deliver any kind of cargo—especially illicit weapons—anywhere in the world. How was he able to build hisintricate underground network? By exploiting cracks in the anarchy of globalization.
By Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun
Douglas Farah, a former
foreign corre-spondent, is a terror finance consultant and author of
Bloodfrom Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror
(NewYork: Broadway Books, 2004). Stephen Braun is a national correspondent for the
. The authors arewriting a book about Viktor Bout, which will be published in 2007.
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