Trapping the Lord of War The Rise and Fall of Viktor Bout


Part 4: Hired to Supply US Forces in Iraq

Priorities changed after the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. Wolosky, a Democrat, was at odds with Republican President George W. Bush's new administration, and his special unit was dissolved. In a July 2002 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, Wolosky sharply criticized Washington's failure to act in the Bout case. He was also critical of Moscow, which had apparently given him "official protection." Wolosky decided to return to the more lucrative -- and less frustrating -- pursuit of practicing law.

But then something happened that Wolosky couldn't have imagined in his worst nightmares: The US government began collaborating with the merchant of death and hired him to supply its war in Iraq.

To this day, it remains unclear whether the collaboration was the result of sloppy work on the part of US officials or whether Washington knew who was the owner of Irbis Air, a company registered in Kazakhstan. It is clear, however, that Bout's aircraft were subcontracted to the US Air Mobility Command, as well as to defense contractor KBR, a company owned by the Halliburton conglomerate. Then-US Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton until 2000. It is also clear that the subcontracted Irbis Air flights were landing in Baghdad and at Balad Airbase, for which all pilots required a special US military clearance.

Multi-Million Donation

Reporters Farah and Braun later discovered that Irbis completed at least 1,000 flights to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. They write: "U.S. taxpayers donated as much as $60 million to the Viktor Bout organization." At a time when President Bush was demanding that the US's allies be "either with us or against us" in the war on terror, the Russian arms dealer was accomplishing a balancing act. He was both a hunted man and a subcontractor to a US defense contractor.

The US State Department blacklisted Bout in 2005. From then on, he was only seen in Moscow's expensive sushi restaurants or in the bars of five-star hotels. He also paid regular visits to the partially government-owned foreign trade company Isotrex, which dealt with Russian weapons factories. The party of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky offered Bout a slot on its election list that would have guaranteed him a seat in the Russian parliament. "What would I do there? I can solve all my problems on my own," Bout responded.

By 2008, things had grown quiet around Bout, who was living in a luxury apartment with his wife and daughter. Newsweek claimed that Bout was involved in arms shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but if that was true, he must have been pulling the strings from a distance. He had grown cautious and no longer left Russia, with the exception of two mysterious trips to China.

That was also about the time that the individuals interviewed by SPIEGEL abandoned the idea that Bout could be brought to justice. Belgian journalist Draulans was still reporting from Africa, but now he was avoiding civil wars and arms dealers, trying to forget about Bout. Investigator Peleman still felt committed to his sense of idealism and was coordinating UN peacekeeping troops in Congo. Former National Security Council expert Wolosky had been made a partner at the New York law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where one of his clients was the insurance company AIG, whose brokers -- warlords of a different sort -- almost brought down the global economy.

Now there was only one person left who could ruin Viktor Bout and bring him to justice: Bout himself. That could happen through his delusions of grandeur or his recklessness -- or both.


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