Viktor Bout, the notorious international arms dealer, was arrested yesterday. He is often associated with “blood” (conflict) diamonds. (Nicolas Cage’s character in Lord of War was said to be based on Bout. It includes a scene of a diamond deal.) Here is what PBS’ Frontline has to say:
Bout is often mentioned in the press as being “paid in diamonds” although there appears to be no hard evidence for this. Part of what makes Bout so hard to pin down is that he creates layers of companies and individuals between himself and any alleged criminal activities. There are, however, many known links between “blood diamonds” and some of his associates. There is also certain knowledge that his clients fund their arms budgets from diamond sales.
The [United Nations] Angola Report includes reports of attempts to set up a diamond-cutting factory in Kigali, Rwanda, where Bout had an operational base. Such a factory would have seriously undermined controls on “conflict diamonds,” since only uncut diamonds can be traced. Individuals involved in the plan were said to be linked to Bout. The [UN] Liberia Report mentioned that Bout’s close associate Sanjivan Ruprah – now in jail in Belgium, and a major source of information for US officials about Bout’s Taliban connections – owned diamond mines in Liberia and also sold arms.
Diamonds did come up a number of times in this New York Times magazine profile of Bout:
A conversation with a Kenyan diamond trader and mine operator named Sanjivan Ruprah offers insight into Bout’s techniques. Ruprah was arrested in Belgium in February 2002, accused of money laundering, and later released. ”I met Victor to discuss airlifting a hundred tons of diamond mining equipment from South Africa to Kananga in the Congo to start a new diamond mine,” Ruprah said by e-mail. (He said he was traveling in Africa, but wouldn’t say in which country.)
The diamond business is still being cleaned up, but I’m glad to see that Viktor Bout is being sent away. Good riddance to him, and it’s shameful to think that anyone in this business had anything to do with him.
UPDATE: And here’s a CNN interview where Bout says he “never touched diamonds in [his] life.” I guess that’s up for a court to decide now.