Outlaws Inc.

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Ever wonder where all these mega-rich Russians came from?  You know the type – the ones who buy and sell football teams, own mega-expensive motor cars and yachts.  Well, this week’s book Outlaws Inc. (ISBN 978-0-283-07132-4, Sidgwick and Jackson, 2011) might just give you the answer, and it revolves around selling off unclaimed State assets.

If author Matt Potter is correct, some of these assets included 50 percent of army motorcycles that were “lost” on the way back to the garage, and an even greater heist was a complete plane, an Ilyushin Il-76 that just disappeared on its way to being enshrined in front of a government building.  That is real David Copperfield stuff.  (If the name escapes you, he is the illusionist who managed to make the statue of liberty disappear.)

About one third the way into this book, a name that is very well known to those Thailand readers is that of Viktor Bout, who spent some time in Bangkok trying unsuccessfully to avoid extradition to the US.  According to Viktor, he has committed no crimes, even though his airline just might have carried some contraband.

The complete lawlessness in the former Soviet Bloc countries is mirrored by the similar situation in sub-Saharan Africa, all fuelled by corrupt practices which makes Thailand look veritably squeaky clean (well, “almost”).

And if you think that something with UN stamped on the box, denoting humanitarian aid, is free from corruption, then think again.  One estimate quoted in the book has 50 percent of the aid being diverted to rebel groups.  That’s aid that you and I paid for!  Guns?  33 percent of the guns procured in America for the Afghan government gets diverted.  And to whom?  The people the Afghan government is supposed to be fighting.

The ways the groups run the transporting business are very ingenious, with planes entering airspace giving the call sign of a legitimate carrier, and repeating that for four other airports and then going into silence and apparently disappearing.

Author Potter stating that flights that can take off ferrying shoes for some disaster area can, two refueling stops later, be carrying land mines, helicopters and ammunition for rebel warlords.

All this aviation is not cheap, though the non-legitimate carriers can put forward cheap tenders, because they are making extra money from the illegal arms and drugs smuggled in the planes’ holds.  For example, Potter uncovers the fact that the Taliban has excellent funding, as they control the drug trade from Afghanistan.

At B. 605 on the Bookazine Big C Extra shelves, this is a most worrying book.  The illegal/illicit movements of munitions and drugs without there being an identifiable “Mr. Big” (even Viktor Bout appears to have been working for somebody bigger than he).  Rarely is the connection brought out, but occasionally there is, resulting in a complex trail of secret patronage, state corruption, sanctions busting and rampant privateering.  All of which means there will be a carpet for it to be swept under.

Welcome to the world of post-Soviet capitalism, where everyone can make big bucks and buy football teams if that is what you want.