The Secretary of State’s office called him “the personification of evil.” Hollywood called him “The Lord of War.”But to this day, Viktor Bout insists he is a businessman.
In this week’s New Yorker, Nicholas Schimdle visited Bout at the Metropolitan Correctional centre, just off the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, where Bout awaits sentencing on charges of supporting terrorism.
Bout tells Schimdle that he honed his English by listening to ABBA and Chicago records (and claims to be able to read “15 or 16” languages, including Esperanto), played competitive volleyball in his youth and enjoys Persian poetry.
This cosmopolitanism helped his business dealings. The extent of Bout’s supply network was vast, and he has long been rumoured to have had connections to the Russian army. Schmidle provides a typical business conversation between Bout and a client, in this case two Colombian informants who went by “Carlos” and “Ricardo.” The transaction took place at the Sofitel in Bangkok in March, 2008. Bout, by the way, insists he always tried to avoid the drug world, but margins were down at the time.
Carlos inquired about C-4 plastic explosives.
“How many tons do you need?” Bout replied.
Carlos and Ricardo said that a ton would be enough.
“We have five,” Bout said.
Bout aspired to a simpler life, he says, but that never panned out.
Read the abstract of Schimdle’s story here or pick up the newest copy of The New Yorker.
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