African Arms Dealers

JEAN BERNARD LASNAUD

South Florida’s Elusive Arms Dealer

Jean Bernard Lasnaud is an international arms dealer who brokers sales of tanks, rocket launchers and even Scud missiles from his luxury condo in a gated South Florida community. With the proper end-user certificate, one can order a fighter plane or a field hospital from Lasnaud’s Web site. Despite nearly three years of arrest requests from Argentinean jurists, U.S. authorities have allowed him to live peacefully in South Florida. Then suddenly, in the spring of 2002, Jean-Bernard Lasnaud disappeared. READ MORE

VICTOR ANATOLIYEVICH BOUT

The Embargo Buster: Fueling Bloody Civil Wars

Bout is an air transport specialist overseeing a complex network of more than 50 planes and dozens of airline, cargo-charter and freight-forwarding companies employing some 300 people. U.N. experts who have investigated his operations say he is the biggest known arms dealer to embargoed African war zones, where air transport is key. Allegations surfaced in February that he armed the Taliban as early as 1995. The press is now calling him the world’s biggest arms dealer. READ MORE

LEONID EFIMOVICH MININ

From Ukraine, a New Kind of Arms Trafficker

Leonid Minin represents a new post-Cold War generation of arms traffickers — highly sophisticated East European criminals with complex global enterprises. For the so-called “Russian Mafia” — organized criminals from the 15 nations and many more ethnic groups that once made up the U.S.S.R. — ample Red Army stockpiles of small arms are simply another natural resource to steal, sell and export. A known leader of the “Odessa Mafia,” an organized criminal group based in Odessa, Ukraine, Minin organizes his business operations, both criminal and legitimate, on a large and international scale.
Minin is thought to have entered the illegal arms trade largely to gain favor with President Charles Taylor of Liberia, where he had other business interests. Minin became famous when he was caught by Italian police with 1,500 documents detailing his worldwide business activities, including arms. The case against Minin is the first of its kind and could set a precedent. It features an Italian court prosecuting Minin, an Israeli citizen, for selling Ukrainian arms to Liberia and Sierra Leone, through a broker in Russia and banks in Turkish Cyprus, Switzerland and the United States. It could give U.N. arms embargoes more prosecutorial bite around the world. READ MORE

MONZER AL KASSAR

The Prince of Marbella: Arms To All Sides

The arms-dealing career of Monzer Al Kassar was forged in the Cold War, yet he was driven more by profit than by politics or ideology. Al Kassar built his career on deals brokered between Eastern European suppliers wanting to sell arms for hard currency and Western government agencies and Middle Eastern groups, like the Palestine Liberation Organization, who wanted to buy them. Law-enforcement and intelligence officials who have tracked Al Kassar say that he has used his connections to create a vast criminal empire. But many believe the power of Al Kassar’s relationships with governments around the world makes him largely untouchable. In his own defense, he denies any connection to criminal or terrorist activities. “The world cannot accept I am an independent arms dealer,” Al Kassar toldFRONTLINE/World. READ MORE

SARKIS SOGHANALIAN

The Cold War’s Largest Arms Merchant

With more than 40 years of experience and billions of dollars in brokered deals, Sarkis Soghanalian stands out among the major players in the international arms trade. Speaking publicly, even enthusiastically, this Lebanese citizen insists that all his deals – whether they were with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or rebels in Central America – were done with the approval of the U.S. government. For two decades Soghanalian was based in the United States. Many of his deals were in violation of U.S. endorsed embargos, and though he did not avoid arrest and occasional prosecution, it was only after the Persian Gulf war that he was jailed. At that time and more recently he has made “accomodations” with U.S. law enforcement that led to his early release. His forte has become trading vital intelligence information for his freedom. Soghanalian represents a powerful but complex cautionary tale about the danger inherent in the international traffic in weapons, and the way in which this activity can backfire on the arms deal and the United States. READ MORE