Set for life: Viktor Bout’s nine million dollar supergrass-AP

March 25, 2012

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: Viktor Bout was not the first man to be demonised as the “Merchant of Death”. Basil Zaharoff , an awarded Knight Grand Cross of the British Order of the Bath (GCB) and Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) was celebrated as the original “Merchant of Death”.

He was an arsonist (his first job was to set fire to the mansions of the wealthy for the Constantinople Fire Brigade to put out), a bigamist and pimp, embezzler, arms dealer, honourary knight, confidant of kings and international man of mystery. Zaharoff was born to Russian emigres in Constantinople in 1849 and died in Monte Carlo in 1936 rather than buried in a US prison cell.

He worked for the UK’s Vickers munitions firm for 30 years as an international representative dubbed “the Armaments King”, as well as engaging in far more lucrative private trading. He sold weapons to both sides of conflicts, often with fake or faulty parts and sabotaged weapons demonstrations to gain advantage.

Zaharoff sold the first fully automatic machine gun, the Maxim, and the first submarines, steam-powered. Zaharoff was a master of bribery and corruption, surrounding himself with influential businessmen, financiers, politicians and nobles.

Zaharoff is said to have started World War I for his own personal profit, estimated to be $1.2 billion from that venture alone. He bought his own bank, his own newspaper, two university chairs and his own casino. He was believed to be the wealthiest man in Europe.

Zaharoff was parodied in Herge’s Tintin graphic novel, The Broken Ear, as the weapons trader Basil Bazarov who sells to both parties of a conflict he himself helped provoke, known as the Systeme Zaharoff.

Zaharoff was rewarded with decorations and riches. How does Viktor Bout compare?

See Smithsonian Magazine, “The Mysterious Mr. Zedzed: The Wickedest Man in the World”,]

The $9 MILLION supergrass: How man who helped snare ‘Merchant of Death’ arms dealer was highest paid informant in history

Associated Press: November 7, 2011

Terror plot: Arms dealer Viktor Bout has been convicted thanks to star witness Carlos Sagastume

The star witness at the trial of an ex-Soviet officer known as the Merchant of Death was a former drug dealer who is one of the highest paid informants in history.

Carlos Sagastume, 40, earned more than $9 million over 15 years by risking his life to convince drug dealers and a weapons merchant that he was a criminal.

Collecting evidence against Viktor Bout was another major achievement in a remarkable career for Mr Sagastume.

He posed as a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as FARC, to coax Bout to travel from Russia to Thailand in 2008 to arrange to send weapons to Colombian rebels to fight Americans.

The month long trial in federal court in Manhattan ended on Wednesday with Bout’s conviction on conspiracy charges.

The arms dealer, an inspiration for the character played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film ‘Lord of War’, faces a potential life sentence.

Mr Sagastume made most of his millions through the State Department’s Narcotics Rewards Program, collecting $7.5 million from just two rewards.

Another $1.6 million was earned through work on 150 investigations, though some of the money covered expenses. He was also paid $250,000 for the Bout probe.

In all, the State Department has paid more than $62 million in rewards since Congress established the program in 1986 to reward individuals who provide information to help arrest and convict drug dealers.

Deportation: Viktor Bout (centre) on his arrival in New York after being led off his flight from Bangkok

Thomas Pasquarello, a former DEA special agent who headed the Bout probe in Thailand, said Mr Sagastume was among the DEA’s best informants.

‘If you’re looking at big fish, you need big bait,’ he said. ‘That’s what guys like Carlos are good at. They’re pros at what they do and they have deep connections.’

‘A good informant risks his life and can fake underground connections to reassure someone like Bout that he’s authentic,’ he said.

‘Look at Viktor Bout. He wasn’t going to fall for a rookie informant. Guys like that could see through a rookie undercover in five minutes,’ said Mr Pasquarello, now chief of police in Somerset, Mass.

Guatemalan-born Mr Sagastume began transporting drugs after he finished a five-year stint in Guatemala’s Army, where he specialised in gathering intelligence.

Speaking through an interpreter at Bout’s trial he said that after he was kidnapped by federal police in Mexico and a $60,000 ransom was paid to free him, he contacted the DEA in Guatemala, looking for a new line of work.

By 1998, he had moved to the United States and was steadily delivering successful results in investigations.

In January 2008, he was summoned to join a sting operation designed to catch Bout, who was known as a supplier of weapons that fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Inspiration: The 2005 film Lord of War, starring Nicolas Cage, is said to have been based on the life of Bout

Mr Sagastume posed as a FARC member who wanted to buy 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 AK-47 rifles, 350 sniper rifles, five tons of C-4 explosives and 10million rounds of ammunition, among other weapons.

He teamed up with Ricardo Jardenero, 52, a Colombian-born informant who posed as ‘The Commandant,’ a commanding officer in the FARC, classified by Washington as a narco-terrorist group.

Mr Jardenero was also one of the DEA’s better paid informants, making $500,000 during four years working undercover. He was paid $320,000 for the Bout probe.

Anthony Barkow, a former federal terrorism prosecutor, said Mr Sagastume’s earnings were not surprising.

‘He’s done an incredible amount of work for the government at great risk to himself,’ Mr Barkow said.

Mr Sagastume is now more widely known after spending days on the witness stand at Bout’s trial. However, he might not have made his last dollar as an informant.

‘They’re constantly able to reformat themselves and stay fresh,’ Mr Pasquarello said.

‘There are plenty of other settings where a guy like Carlos can stay valuable. What it comes down to is, wherever there’s greed and criminals interested in making money, there are always people who can lead us to them.’

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