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

Viktor Bout, who has been dubbed the "lord of war" and the "merchant of death," has had his fingers in many bloody conflicts over the years. The Russian arms dealer, who has been in a Thai prison since 2008, is now likely to be extradited to the United States. Will he reveal the names of his backers? By SPIEGEL Staff

Anyone who meets with an arms dealer in Moscow can expect the rendezvous to take place in a dark bar in the suburbs, while walking in a densely wooded park or perhaps in an underground parking garage. The Starlite Diner on Mayakovsky Square, on the other hand, is an unlikely meeting point. The fast food restaurant is popular with local youth and foreign tourists and is brightly lit, saturated with the smell of hamburgers and covered with Elvis posters.

Nevertheless, Sergei Bout and Richard Chichakli, who are suspected of being involved in arms deals, have indeed chosen to meet at this popular diner. It isn't only because they "were here often with him," as they say under their breath. It's also because the spot the two men have chosen, on the protected veranda and with a view of the door, gives them a good vantage point. The Starlite, with its red plastic chairs, is a restaurant frequented by many different people, a place where no one is conspicuous, young or old, jeans or dressed in a suit. The restaurant is easy to observe but difficult to monitor. Perhaps spy novel author John le Carré would even have given his blessing to this restaurant as a place to discuss business deals involving deadly missiles and Kalashnikovs.

Sergei Bout, 49, is a Russian citizen. His foreign bank accounts are frozen and he faces the threat of arrest if he travels to the West. Richard Chichakli, 51, is a Syrian-born United States citizen who fled from Texas and now lives in Moscow with his Russian wife. His bank accounts are also frozen, and his name is on a United Nations list of arms embargo breakers.

Right After Bin Laden on Most-Wanted List

The two men are believed to have had particularly close ties to the man they refer to as "him," also known as the "merchant of death": Viktor Bout, 43, who allegedly made hundreds of millions of dollars in the illegal international arms trade. If the allegations about Bout are true, his network of companies has provided weapons shipments to virtually every armed conflict of the last few decades. Some Western experts are convinced that Bout has spread more terror and is responsible for more deaths than Osama bin Laden, which explains why his name was listed second next to that of the al-Qaida leader on the US intelligence agencies' internal most-wanted list.

Sergei, burly, casually dressed and foul-mouthed -- a Bud Spencer type -- is the brother of the merchant of death. Richard, athletic, distinguished looking and smooth-talking -- more of a George Clooney type -- was Viktor Bout's business partner and best friend for years. The "Lord of War" himself has been in a Bangkok prison since 2008. After a prolonged legal tug-of-war, it now seems likely that Thailand will imminently extradite him to the United States.

His trial promises to offer an unprecedented glimpse into the shadowy world of the arms dealer, a prospect that undoubtedly has politicians and generals in Africa, Asia and Latin America deeply concerned. But they aren't the only ones. Bout's secretive connections reach all the way up to senior levels of government in Moscow and Washington. If he talks, the revelations could cause a serious rift between the two countries, or what Time magazine calls a "new ice age."

'Viktor Wouldn't Hurt a Cat'

Chichakli believes his friend -- and he too, by extension -- is the target of a CIA conspiracy. "We made deals 15 years ago. It was a totally legal cargo business," he says. Although Chichakli claims that he no longer had any business connections with Bout after 2004, a United Nations report suggests otherwise, indicating that Chichakli provided financial support for Bout's weapons deals. US authorities seized his $1.5 million Texas estate and his two Mercedes sports cars, a slap in the face that still upsets him today. "I was never guilty of anything, and it's out of the question that my gentle friend Viktor, who wouldn't hurt a cat, could have smuggled weapons on a grand scale."

Sergei Bout, an aircraft mechanic, describes his brother as a humanist, a family man, a vegetarian interested in saving the rainforest -- and a clever businessman. The fact that Viktor happened to have purchased or leased aircraft at the right time, aircraft that he then deployed all over the world, was not only legal but a brilliant business concept, says his older brother.

What kinds of cargo did Viktor Bout transport? "Everything -- from water filters to frozen chickens, refrigerators to stereos."

When asked whether his brother transported weapons, Sergei Bout says, with a sigh: "No one looks that closely, especially in Africa, as long as the freight documents are in order. The owner and the pilot can't be held responsible for what's being loaded onto the plane. Why don't you bring charges against a taxi driver if one of his passengers is carrying unpleasant things in his suitcase, or against a mailman who is unknowingly carrying nasty little packages?"

Deadly Cargo

But if investigators are to be believed, there were quite a few "unpleasant things" and "nasty little packages" on Bout's planes. He certainly may have transported flowers, food and electronic devices with his dozens of Antonovs, Ilyushins and Yakovlevs. He was even known to have flown aid materials to disaster zones and UN peacekeepers to crisis regions. Nevertheless, Bout earned a large share of his profits with other, more deadly cargo.

In addition to Bout's brother and his business partner, SPIEGEL has interviewed many other witnesses, including his wife , his Thai attorney, journalists who accompanied him in the chaos of African wars, a professional Bout hunter at the US National Security Council and an idealistic Bout pursuer who began tracking him down at a former Belgian monastery. Military experts and members of the intelligence community also provided information.

The saga of the merchant of death, a tale of blood diamonds and shipments of coltan and gold, unfolds in some of the world's major cities, places like Moscow, Washington, Bangkok and Brussels. But the minor outposts of war also play an important role: poorly guarded arms warehouses in the former Soviet republics; a jungle airstrip in northeastern Congo; the American Balad Airbase in Iraq; Kandahar, a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan; and a villa surrounded by bodyguards in Liberia's war-ravaged capital Monrovia.

Taking Advantage of Globalization

The Viktor Bout story is the tale of an unscrupulous businessman who cleverly took advantage of globalization, and who appears to have provided weapons to virtually every army in the world: from the Americans to the Taliban and their enemies in the Northern Alliance, and from Marxist guerillas in Colombia to child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Still, there is one thing Bout cannot be accused of: discriminating against anyone because of their skin color or political views. Anyone able to pay was supplied -- discreetly and reliably -- with every deadly weapon under the sun.

The Bout case also shines a light on years of people looking the other way and ignoring the truth, and on strange alliances. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an effort to prevent the extradition of his fellow Russian, has spoken out publicly on his behalf, even taking the highly unusual step of suggesting that Bout is innocent. Officials in Washington have remained silent. Under these circumstances, will prosecutors even be able to prove that the arms dealer did in fact commit crimes? Will he pay for his alleged offences, and will others, people with political influence, be pilloried in the process?

The film "Lord of War," in which Nicolas Cage portrays an arms dealer who strongly resembles Bout, caused a stir worldwide when it was released in 2005. In the film Cage's character, Yuri Orlov, says: "There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?" When asked about the quote, Bout said: "It's cynical. Too bad for Cage, though. He deserved a better screenplay."

Who exactly is this Viktor Anatolyevich Bout?

Secretive about His Past

Bout was born on Jan. 13, 1967 in Dushanbe, the capital of the then Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic. But Bout is even secretive about this simple fact, saying that he comes from a place in Turkmenistan, a claim that mystifies even his brother, Sergei.

The two brothers grew up in a sheltered environment. The father was an auto mechanic and the mother was a bookkeeper -- Russian atheists surrounded by a majority Muslim population on the southern edge of the USSR.

Viktor was the adventurous son, the more ingenious and clever of the two boys, copying banned pop songs to earn a little extra pocket money and teaching himself Esperanto in the belief that it would come in handy later in life. He also joined Komsomol, the Communist Union of Youth, because it seemed that the only career opportunities could be found within the Communist Party. After completing a special training program with Soviet military intelligence, which he continues to deny today, he attended the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow.

Portuguese became his favorite subject. In the late 1980s, the army sent him to Mozambique and Angola to work as a military translator. It was still a time of proxy wars between East and West, with Moscow backing the African anti-colonialist movements.

Skilled Linguist

Bout never lost his cool, always remaining levelheaded and calculating. He seduced a Russian diplomat's wife, a woman named Alla, and then married her. Everything seemed to come to him naturally, and his language skills were legendary. During his time in Africa, Bout apparently met Igor Sechin, who was also working as an interpreter and who would later embark on an extremely successful political career. Some even believe that Sechin, now Russia's deputy prime minister and a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, helped and protected Bout. To this day, both men deny having had any relationship.

Back in Moscow, Bout was discharged from the military in 1991, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. When the Soviet Union collapsed soon afterwards, an entire world fell apart for many in the military. But Bout, in his mid-20s by then, astutely saw the unfolding chaos as an opportunity. Unused aircraft stood idle on the tarmac at the waning superpower's airports, and unsold weapons were piled high in the country's weapons factories. The enterprising Bout purchased -- with the help of military intelligence, some claim -- three old Antonov cargo planes for the ridiculously low price of $40,000 apiece. Also working in his favor was the fact that there was no shortage of pilots, and that many were without work during those months of turmoil.

Perhaps Bout was clever enough to register his fleet, which soon grew to four dozen aircraft, in obscure countries and to creatively conceal the identities of his clients, and perhaps he received help from Moscow. In any event, Bout registered his planes in countries like Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic, benefiting from their lax regulations.

Reckless Pilots

In 1993, Bout, accompanied by his brother Sergei, moved his fleet to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. There they met Chichakli, another aviation buff, who told them: "Give me a few pieces of steel and I'll build you an airline." Like the Bouts, Chichakli paid little heed to what the planes were carrying, as long as they weren't flying empty and the recipients of their cargo paid on time.

The cargos were often routed through the Bulgarian city of Burgas en route to Africa. The routes were mysterious and the pilots were reckless, flying ancient but robust planes that could land anywhere.

Africa's elites needed a lot of things, but weapons were always part of the mix. In Nigeria and Angola, so-called liberation movements were battling so-called regular armies, while powerful politicians in both East and West served as interested onlookers -- and often as clandestine players. Everyone wanted access to the region's vast and valuable mineral resources.

Two US journalists, Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, learned that the Russian merchant of death and his fleet played a particularly shameful role in Liberia, where Bout reportedly supplied the brutal warlord Charles Taylor with large numbers of weapons after Taylor had assumed power. Armed with these weapons, Taylor's child soldiers, often high on drugs, became notorious for mowing down everything in their path.

The Respected 'Mister Vik'

According to Farah and Braun, Bout bought a house in the Liberian capital Monrovia near Taylor's official residence, where he was a frequent visitor and where Taylor's servants respectfully called him "Mister Vik." The dictator, who would send rebel units on raids into neighboring, resource-rich Sierra Leone, allegedly paid Bout with looted blood diamonds. Bout apparently brought his own gemstone experts to the meetings with Taylor to check the stones.

Bout must have known that he was violating UN arms embargos with his shipments to Liberia and Angola, because he made sure that his pilots always took along spray paint to paint over the call signs on their aircraft so that they couldn't be identified.

Bout's empire reached its zenith around the turn of the millennium, when Belgian reporter Dick Draulans was allowed to accompany him into the Congolese heart of darkness. Bout was there to drum up business with Jean-Pierre Bemba, the notorious rebel leader (and later vice president). He provided Bemba with combat helicopters. But this wasn't enough for the rebels, who complained that there was something missing in the cargo: alcohol. Bout, sensing that the situation threatened to spin out of control, dispatched one of his pilots to fly over enemy lines at night. A few hours later the man, dripping with sweat, returned with a few cases of beer.

"It was typical Bout," says Draulans, "clever, customer-oriented, jovial." The reporter says that he never saw a different side to Bout during their trips together. The Russian never drank, was faithful to his wife and never lost his cool -- a businessman from head to toe. His three Russian bodyguards, says Draulans, were "like characters in a Rambo film, always carrying machetes."

Odious Business Partners

Only once did the Belgian experience the arms dealer in a sentimental mood. Bout was developing a sort of Marshall Plan for Africa. He said he wanted to attract investors, protect the virgin rainforests from clearing and the elephants from poachers. He, Viktor Bout, claimed to be determined to help Africa. He said he had already flown potential investors from Dubai to Central Africa, "to the heavenly landscape where I would like to live with my wife and daughter." But Draulans wasn't convinced, partly because of the nature of Bout's business partners. Taylor and Bemba, who were already considered serious war criminals at the time, are now behind bars and face charges of war crimes in trials before international courts.

The year 2001 marked a turning point in Bout's career. Two men, working independently of each other, had made it their mission to track him down. One of Bout's aircraft, which had been chartered for a UN humanitarian mission, was identified as the same plane that had been filmed several weeks earlier with weapons being unloaded from it.

One of Bout's pursuers, Johan Peleman, is self-taught when it comes to the arms trade. In the mid-1990s Peleman, an expert on medieval literature, was working for a charitable peace organization headquartered in a Franciscan monastery in Antwerp. While conducting his research, the idealist stumbled upon information about Bout and his airlines, which always seemed to be on the scene in war zones. "I was shocked that politics, ideology or moral considerations didn't play the slightest role in Bout's operations," Peleman says. "He was supplying weapons to both Congolese rebels and the then president of Zaire, Mobutu, who he ultimately flew out of the country into exile."

Peleman's tenacity eventually convinced UN experts, to whom he had sent his detailed reports on flight movements and dubious ultimate buyer certificates. In 1999, the UN hired Peleman as a researcher. His new job gave him access to satellite images and bank accounts. In a report on Angola that Peleman submitted to the UN Security Council in late 2000, the Russian was mentioned for the first time in connection with the illegal arms trade.

Razor-Sharp Intelligence

Lee Wolosky couldn't be more different from the chain-smoking outsider Peleman. Wolosky, an American lawyer and political careerist, operated within the system. Whereas Peleman pursued his mission with emotion and a deep sense of outrage, Wolosky was consistently coolheaded and approached his work with the razor-sharp intelligence of a Harvard graduate and Russia expert. He served at the White House as the director for transnational threats on the National Security Council staff.

In 2000, the Bout file, a hodgepodge of information that was only a few pages thick, landed on Wolosky's desk. The case fascinated Wolosky, who later said: ''Bout represented a post-Cold-War phenomenon for which there was no framework to stop. No one was doing what he was doing. And there was no response. We needed to build a response."

While doing his research for the administration of then US President Bill Clinton, Wolosky focused on Africa and, more importantly, on Afghanistan. Bout supplied the Taliban and, in doing so, began walking a tightrope in that part of the world, says Wolosky. He says that Bout's fingerprints were everywhere.

But by mid-2001, Bout could no longer travel where he pleased. Many of his planes and companies were being monitored and his operating range seemed to have been reduced. Wolosky hoped to obtain an international warrant for Bout's arrest, but his only supporters were the Belgians, who limited their charges to money laundering. Bout had fled to Russia, which was unwilling to extradite him on those charges.

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.

Bout's Downfall

At some point in November 2007, a plan must have been assembled in the United States to set a trap for Bout. A special unit of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) made contact with Bout through a middleman named Andrew Smulian, who knew the Russian well. Smulian proposed a lucrative deal to Bout. He told the arms dealer that the Colombian guerilla organization FARC wanted to buy $20 million worth of weapons: 700 surface-to-air missiles, 5,000 AK-47 rifles, several million rounds of ammunition and an unspecified number of landmines.

Bout was suspicious and, using a photo, tried to identify the FARC members supposedly involved in the deal. He had done business with FARC a decade earlier, when he dropped weapons over the jungles of South America. At the last minute, Bout decided not to appear at a meeting in Bucharest. The frustrated DEA agents, who were waiting at the airport in the Romanian capital, cursed Bout for his professionalism.

The agents decided to try again, this time in Bangkok instead of Bucharest.

Off on Vacation

Apparently greed trumped Bout's instincts the second time around. Convinced that nothing could happen to him in Thailand, he decided to fly to Bangkok on March 5, 2008 for a "vacation" in the country. After arriving on a night flight, he checked into a five-star hotel, the Sofitel Silom, in Bangkok's business district, where he had reserved a suite on the 15th floor. Before hanging the "Do not disturb" sign on his door, Bout booked the hotel's conference room for 3 p.m., and then he went to bed.

At the meeting, Bout spent two hours negotiating with the supposed FARC representatives. He discussed their weapons program and agreed to provide them with everything they had requested. When the undercover agents explained to him that the missiles had to be capable of shooting down American aircraft, he told them that he enthusiastically supported their efforts, and that he was always in favor of targeting Americans. That was when the men revealed themselves as US agents. Bout surrendered without resisting.

He was initially taken to a notorious prison for hardened criminals, where he was photographed in an orange prison jumpsuit, with his hands in handcuffs and shackles on his feet. At first, Bout was thrown into group cells together with murderers, rapists and child molesters. The other prisoners most likely included a provocateur or two who had been planted to encourage Bout to talk. But he kept his distance, and he was later moved to an individual cell.

"My cell is two by two meters," he told his wife when she came to visit him. She was only allowed to see and speak to him through a glass wall. The conditions at the prison were brutal: The food was miserable, the heat was unbearable and the place was infested with cockroaches.

A Liking for Paulo Coelho

Bout lost his excess pounds. He took advantage of the daily 40-minute exercise periods in the prison yard, and he learned new languages from the other prisoners. "Urdu, Farsi, Turkish -- please bring me dictionaries," he asked his wife. He spent time reading, and developed a liking for the work of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, author of "The Manual of the Warrior of Light." Ironically, the amoral businessman had become enamored of the esoteric bestselling author, who preaches tolerance and civic engagement.

Bout has been in pretrial custody for more than two years now. His wife Alla has since moved to Bangkok. She is everything but the typical trophy wife so often seen at the side of rich Russian businessmen. A petite redhead who used to run a clothing store in Russia, she is fighting like a lioness for her husband, often sleeping in taxis or in front of the prison gates. Determined to prevent the Americans from secretly picking him up and taking him to the United States, she says: "They have turned him into a monster."

Lak Nitiwatanavichan, Bout's Thai attorney, says: "They have no solid evidence against my client. Tape recordings made under false pretenses are inconclusive, and pure statements of intent are hardly punishable." The 74-year-old, with his thinning, snow-white hair and plastic sandals, is outraged.

High-ranking Russian officials have similar feelings about the Bout case. Foreign Minister Lavrov calls it "politically motivated" and has vowed to do everything in his power to bring the Russian citizen home. The Russian parliament, the Duma, adopted a declaration of support. And Moscow's pro-government press is portraying Bout as a martyr who deserves to be freed from the clutches of the CIA.

Offered a Deal

It is undeniable that some very strange things happened in Bangkok. Sirichoke Sopha, a member of parliament and a close adviser to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, paid a visit to the prisoner on a Sunday in April.

Sopha allegedly offered the Russian a deal. The Thais wanted him to testify about an aircraft that authorities in Bangkok had seized in December 2009 with 35 tons of weapons on board, which was en route from North Korea to Iran and was being flown by a pilot Bout knew. If members of the Thai opposition are to be believed, the alleged deal also revolved around the possible extradition of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and allegations of abuse of office and incitement to terrorism. The Thai government wanted Bout to provide incriminating material. They also wanted the Kremlin to turn over the politician, who is currently spending much of his time in Montenegro and Moscow, to Bangkok. Only if these conditions were fulfilled would Bout be released and sent home to Russia.

Up to 30 Years

The American indictment -- "08 CRIM. 365, Southern District of New York versus Viktor Bout alias Viktor Bulakin alias Vadim Markovich Aminov" -- is based exclusively on the events in Bangkok. The principal charges are "conspiracy with the intent to kill American citizens" and the "support of a foreign terrorist organization." Experts familiar with the US justice system believe that the defendant, if convicted, could end up behind bars for 20 to 30 years, unless he cooperates and accepts a plea bargain.

Did the American prosecutors limit their case to the sham FARC weapons deal, because they have no other solid evidence? Is Washington trying to protect possible Russian backers, at least temporarily? Or are the US intelligence community and the Pentagon blocking the prosecutors from leveling more extensive charges, hoping to quietly sweep their own embarrassing cooperation with the merchant of death under the table?

Bout, at any rate, seems to be homesick for Moscow. "That's the only place I feel safe," he told his wife. It's arguably a sign of his close ties to senior government officials.

Both arms dealers and those who investigate them live very dangerous lives in that part of the world. Ivan Safronov, a journalist who wrote about shady deals, plunged to his death from a Moscow window in 2007. Though it was meant to look like a suicide, there are indications that it was a contract killing. Oleg Orlov, a Russian arms dealer, was arrested in Kiev and subsequently murdered in prison -- supposedly by a fellow prisoner.

Dozens of Others

SPIEGEL has one last meeting with Sergei Bout, not at the "Starlite," this time, but in a bar in downtown Moscow called "Monks and Nuns."

It is the day on which the media are reporting on a remarkable legal weapons deal: Washington has signed the biggest arms deal of all time with Saudi Arabia. According to calculations by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the world's 100 largest weapons makers sold $385 billion worth of munitions in 2008, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year. The world's three largest arms exporters are the United States, Russia and Germany. During the same period, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spent $122 billion on development aid.

Sergei poses a hypothetical question: If someone can no longer do the job himself, aren't there dozens of others waiting to take his place? And are heads of state behaving any differently when they engage in their legitimate arms deals with each other? "I don't know why the Americans are so obsessed about prosecuting Viktor." He points out that anyone who thinks his brother will betray his country is deceiving himself. His brother, says Sergei, can take a lot and remains an optimist.

But then there is Viktor Bout's latest letter from the prison in Bangkok, in which he makes statements that seem pessimistic on the eve of his probable extradition. "The Americans have ways to get anyone to talk. Perhaps they'll torture me with chemical substances, or perhaps they'll stick me in a camp like Guantanamo. At any rate, I won't get a fair trial in the United States."

Bout ends the letter with these ominous words: "If I die in prison, it won't be a natural death."

BENJAMIN BIDDER, ERICH FOLLATH, MATTHIAS SCHEPP

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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