The Private Film Archives of the "Merchant of Death"
Author: Karin Assmann, Anna Sadovnikova
As Viktor Bout, whose life has been clouded in secrecy, enters the Lower Manhattan federal court room the afternoon of January 21, the atmosphere is tense. TV cameras are not allowed, photography prohibited. His knowledge is dangerous for governments and warlords across the world. Two years ago DEA agents had set a trap for Bout in Thailand. After a long battle over his extradition, he now stands trial in the U.S. The 44-year-old Russian is accused, among other things, of conspiring to support a terrorist organization, of wire fraud and money laundering and of conspiring to kill U.S. citizens.
For years Bout was considered an enigma. Only two photographs had been shot surreptitiously, showing him in Africa during the 1990's. It was not until the mid 90's that the public was introduced to him through the movie "Lord of War" starring Nicolas Cage.
SPIEGEL TV reporters Karin Assmann and Anna Sadovnikova have now gained access to exclusive photographs and footage that shed light on Bout's secret life.
A small sensation are images from 2001 showing Bout in a Rwandan military training camp. Until now the extent of his activity in this African nation had been unknown. With approximately two dozen Rwandan troops receiving paramilitary training in the background, Bout appears. "We are training hand-to-hand-combat“, one of the Russian instructors reports to him. "How many of them are any good?“, asks Bout. "About 40 or 50“, the officer replies. In several scenes the soldiers are wearing chemical weapons suits.
On several tapes Bout is seen in negotiations with Africans, discussing access to gold, coltan and diamonds.
Just how loyal Bout remained to the ideals of the former Soviet Union, becomes clear in another film clip: during a meeting of former Red Army soldiers and colleagues in 2008, Bout toasts the "glorious Soviet Army". Months later he is arrested in Thailand.
Interviewees inlcude his brother, his former bodyguards and business associates. How investigators pursued and finally caught up with the "merchant of death", leading up to his 2008 arrest, is described by former officials of the DEA, the State Department and the National Security Council.
year of production: 2010