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What is Viktor Bout’s net worth? Russian ‘Merchant of Death’ back in the news

Bruno Cooke July 1, 2022
viktor bout net worth merchant of death russia
Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

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Convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, aka the “Merchant of Death”, has been in and out of the news in the past few months – but what’s his estimated net worth?

Most recently, his name has come up for his potential link with the case of WNBA player Brittney Griner. 

The New York Times reported today (Friday, 1 July 2022) that the Russian, known as the “Merchant of Death”, may somehow become involved in the US basketball player’s case, ie, via a prisoner exchange. Griner has been detained in Russia since February, reports The Guardian.

Viktor Bout has appeared on several lists of the richest criminals of all time, including on Slice, News Patrolling, Wall St Watchdog and Browsed, but what might his net worth be?

Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

What is the net worth of Russia’s ‘Merchant of Death’ Viktor Bout?

First, it’s worth noting Russian state media describes Viktor Bout as a businessman and entrepreneur.

In December 2008, the Economist described him as an “arms-dealer extraordinaire”. He had “smashed arms embargoes and struck deals with a remarkable axis,” the outlet added.

He was arrested in March 2008, reports The Guardian, in a five-star hotel in Bangkok. 

According to the rich-list websites linked above, which are at a consensus regarding Viktor Bout’s net worth, the value of his assets – at the time of his arrest in 2008 – was about $6 billion, or about €5.3 billion, or £5 billion.

How did Viktor Bout’s net worth get so high, and what is it in today’s money?

Inflation is higher than it’s been in a long time in many parts of the world. So it’ll come as no surprise to hear the 2008 estimate cited above actually reflects a higher figure now.

Photo by U.S. Department of Justice via Getty Images

Adjusted for inflation, therefore, Viktor Bout’s net worth in 2008 is about $8 billion in today’s money.

Of course, that net amount may have changed in the years since his arrest. But, since he is currently serving a 25-year federal prison sentence, it may well have plateaued. His sentence is for, per the New York Times, “conspiring to sell weapons to people who said they planned to kill Americans”.

And it’s broadly in this vein that the so-called Russian “Merchant of Death” appears to have obtained such a high net worth – Viktor Bout profited $50 million from “supplying the Taliban with military equipment when they ruled Afghanistan” (per the US Treasury), and received “millions of dollars” (writes Yahoo) to deliver goods and equipment to US troops in Iraq.

How did he earn his nickname?

By 2005, Viktor Bout reportedly had the capacity to “transport tanks, helicopters and weapons by the tons to virtually any point in the world”.

One DEA agent described him as “one of the most dangerous men on the face of the earth”. 

Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Bout worked as a military translator in the late 1980s. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, he used his connections to acquire several heavy airlift cargo planes. He used them, Yahoo writes, to haul abandoned weapons and ammunition out of Russia and to “far-flung conflict zones”.

Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun bestowed on Viktor Bout the moniker of “Merchant of Death” in 2007. They co-authored a book of the same name.

Bout was the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s Lord Of War

In 2005 American movie Lord Of War, Nicolas Cage plays Yuri Orlov. The character and his activities are said to be based on Viktor Bout’s exploits.

The Guardian wrote in 2008 that Amnesty International had “commended the film for highlighting the baleful effects of the arms trade”.

Incidentally, in the movie, Nic Cage’s character Yuri is after glory, not money.

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Yahoo reported in May this year that Russia was “looking to exchange” WNBA star Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout. It cited “several state-owned Russian news outlets” in its reportage. 

The New York Times has updates.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.