The arms industry is a truly global phenomenon. Guns, ammunition and other larger weaponry mean big business all over the world, and where there’s money to be made there will always be a corrupt or criminal element looking to capitalize on the market. The following men were or are masters at the gun game — shady figures who have traveled far and wide trafficking and distributing arms for cold hard cash while attempting to stay one step ahead of the authorities and their business rivals. What follows are the ten most notorious arms dealers in modern history.
10. Adnan Khashoggi
Adnan Khashoggi is an extremely successful Saudi Arabian businessman. He also happens to have been a hugely prominent arms dealer. Regarded as the richest man in the world during the 1980s, the American-educated Khashoggi, now 76, began his arms trading career in the 1960s, brokering deals between US companies and the Saudi government. Amongst Khashoggi’s most famous clients were Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin), who during the early 1970s paid him $106 million in commissions. He concealed his financial dealings by setting up front companies in tax havens such as Switzerland. Caught up (along with Imelda Marcos, the widow of exiled Philippine president, Ferdinand) in the Iran-Contra affair, Khashoggi was arrested in 1988 but was acquitted two years later. He currently resides in Monaco, where his services as a facilitator are apparently still occasionally called upon — most recently in 2003, when he allegedly met with American political advisor Richard Perle right before the invasion of Iraq.
9. Dale Stoffel
Dale Stoffel was an arms dealer who was heavily involved with the reconstruction efforts established in the wake of the Iraq War. Known for chomping a cigar and routinely having a machine-gun slung across his back — the popular image of a mercenary — Stoffel was killed while on his way to Baghdad in 2004. In 2003, his company, Wye Oak Technology, was awarded one of the first contracts from the newly established Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and in the end the value of his contracts with the nascent Iraqi government totaled over $40 million. During the year leading up to his death, the goatee-bearded Stoffel became an outspoken critic of irregularities in the Iraqis’ methods of payment for his efforts, and those of others like him, with allegations that corruption was rampant. Shortly before his death Stoffel was owed $24.7 million. His widow Barbara sued the Iraqi government for $25 million in 2009.
8. Dr. Moosa Bin Shamsher
Dr. Moosa Bin Shamsher is a Bangladeshi business tycoon known for being a major player in international arms trading during the 1970s and 1980s (as well as for many other business ventures). Affectionately dubbed “Prince Moosa” by the South Asian press, this high-profile figure is, notwithstanding, known for dealings with other shady big name arms dealers on this list such as Adnan Khashoggi and Sarkis Soghanalian. It is also alleged that Shamsher has had Swiss bank accounts worth $7 billion frozen because of “irregular” transactions. Formed in 1974, Shamsher’s business, DATCO, deals in global weaponry, including tanks, fighter planes and ballistic missiles. Almost as renowned as Shamsher’s arms dealings is his love of excess: he owns a fleet of a hundred private cars that includes Rolls-Royce models and limousines and wears diamond-encrusted shoes valued at $3 million.
7. Samuel Cummings
Samuel Cummings was an American arms dealer and founder of the International Armament Corporation — a company that grew to all but monopolize the global market in private arms sales. Cummings died in 1998 at the age of 71 following a series of strokes but has been called (by The New York Times) the “undisputed philosopher-king of the arms trade.” Recruited as a weapons expert by the CIA in 1950, he spent the rest of the early 50s traveling Europe buying up large amounts of excess WWII weaponry. This led Cummings to start up the arms dealing business Interarmco, which would come to dominate the small arms market of 1950s and ’60s America. He also dealt with many famous international leaders, including Fidel Castro, to whom he sold a consignment of AR-10 rifles — much to the ire of General Rafael Trujillo, leader of the Dominican Republic, where Cummings was later doing business.
6. Fares Mana’a
Said to be Yemen’s most infamous arms dealer, the official occupation of Sheikh Fares Mohammed Mana’a is Governor of Sa’dah, a city in north-western Yemen. Despite such standing, Mana’a’s more illicit activities have been noted by the United Nations Security Council, who added his name to a list of people accused of dealing arms to the Somali insurgents known as Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahedeen — a notorious group suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda. Mana’a has also been accused of spying for the late Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi in return for millions in funds. In March 2011, Mana’a was installed as the new governor of Sa’dah following a battle between pro-government tribesmen and the Mana’a-supported Houthi rebels, to whom he is also accused of supplying arms.
5. Sarkis Soghanalian
When Florida-based private arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian died recently, on October 5, 2011, an extraordinary life ended. Born in 1929, Soghanalian— nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” — established himself during the Cold War, becoming the leading arms merchant during that time of political conflict. He was also infamous for being the foremost seller of weapons to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. With the full knowledge and backing of the CIA, Soghanalian sold arms to Iraq in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. He also sold weaponry to militia groups during the Lebanese Civil War, as well as to Ecuador and Nicaragua, and to Argentina during the Falklands War. Following the first Gulf war with Iraq, Soghanalian was jailed for six years for possession of arms and the intent to sell to Iraq. His sentence was reduced to two years, however, after he supplied the US with intelligence.
4. Monzer al-Kassar
Syrian-born Monzer al-Kassar — also known by the glamorous title, the “Prince of Marbella” — is an international arms dealer of some notoriety.
Currently incarcerated, al-Kassar began his career in trading weapons in the early 1970s when, by his own account, the Yemeni government requested that he buy arms for them from Poland.
He lived in London from from around 1972 until 1984, at which point he was thrown out of the country by the British government for arms and drug trafficking. From London al-Kassar moved to Marbella, where he gained his extravagant nickname. Further allegations of arms dealing followed — including that he sold arms to and helped the hijackers of cruise ship the Achille Lauro. He also pocketed billions making sales to Croatia, Bosnia and Somalia when there was a UN arms embargo with the three countries. Al-Kassar was caught and convicted thanks to an elaborate DEA sting that began in 2006 and proceeded to his arrest in Madrid in 2007 and extradition to the US a year later.
3. Jean-Bernard Lasnaud
When the French-born Jean-Bernard Lasnaud was arrested in 2002 in Switzerland, it ended almost three years of arrest requests from Argentinian courts and Interpol. Despite this, together with accusations from European courts on counts of arms smuggling and fraud, amazingly Lasnaud was allowed to live peacefully in South Florida for more than ten years before his past finally caught up with him. Lasnaud was in the business of selling arms from his luxurious gated community to anyone interested, with China and Somalia just two of the suspected client countries. According to his own estimates, Lasnaud’s Caribbean Group of Companies sold between $1 and $2.5 million in weapons every year. Accused of brokering thousands of tons worth of Argentinian weaponry to Croatia and Ecuador between 1992 and 1995, Lasnaud even boasted his own website to aid with his transactions. He is caught up in a complex web of corruption and scandals the true extent of which may never be known.
2. Leonid Minin
Leonid Minin, a Ukrainian by birth, is a notorious international arms dealer. Born in 1947, he moved to Israel in the 1970s. He was arrested by the German authorities later in the same decade for using false identification as well as under suspicion of art theft. His customers in the arms trade have allegedly included the Liberian dictator Charles Taylor as well as the Revolutionary United Front group which operated in Sierra Leone. The weapons that Minin dealt in are held to have had their origins in the Russian arms company Aviatrend, a group also involved in money laundering connected with toppled Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević. Arrested by Italian authorities in 2000 for illegal arms dealings, Minin was sentenced to two years. Nicolas Cage’s character in the 2005 movie Lord of War is partly based on Minin, as well as Sarkis Soghanalian and our number one, Viktor Bout.
1. Viktor Bout
Viktor Anatolyevich Bout, the most notorious arms smuggler on this list, currently faces seeing out the rest of his life behind bars. Extradited from Thailand to America in 2010 following a five-year operation by the DEA, the Russian national stands accused of illegally arming the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in their operations against US forces. The jury found him guilty and he will receive sentencing in early 2012, when he could stand to receive a life sentence. Bout is reported to have made substantial amounts of money shipping goods in Africa and the Middle East in the 1990s and 2000s, and the former military translator for the Soviet Union may well have fed the flames of various African civil wars by supplying vast quantities of arms during the Nineties. He has also been dubbed a “sanctions buster” because of allegations that he violated UN arms embargoes in trading with Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Congo during the same decade. In 2001 Bout was furthermore implicated in the movement of gold and cash out of Afghanistan. The charges against him make Bout’s future prospects fairly grim indeed.