“Shadow World:” Arms Dealers Boasting of Bribes, Corruption, and Impunity (4/5)

Story Transcript

MAN: The national security state not only seeks a perpetual state of war, it will even go to all ends to create that.

RICCARDO PRIVITERA: They make the mafia look like a bunch of schoolboys.

MAN: And it destroys the diplomacy. It destroys the will to diplomacy and it destroys the skill for diplomacy.

RICHARD NIXON: Well, no, no… I’d rather use the nuclear bomb.

HENRY KISSINGER: That, I think, would just be too much.

RICHARD NIXON: I just want you to think big, Henry. For chrissakes.

RICCARDO PRIVITERA: Bombs are like food, munitions have got, you know, a sell-by date. You’ve got to get rid of it.

JAISAL NOOR: So that ended with Riccardo Privitera. Can you tell us who he is, how you got in touch with him and what his testimony to you exposes about the nature of this industry?

ANDREW FEINSTEIN: So Riccardo Privitera is a weapons and military equipment dealer who operated in Europe. His primary business was a company called Talisman Limited which operated out of Warsaw in Poland, where according to the banking records that I managed to access in Switzerland, did very well for a number of years out of a number of contracts of various types of equipment, was well connected in a number of governments. Did business in the United States, in Israel and in various countries in Europe.

When my book, The Shadow World, on which the film is broadly based, came out in late 2011, I got a number of calls and emails from various weapons dealers who I hadn’t interviewed for the book. And basically what they said to me was, “How could you write a book about the global arms trade without having spoken to me first?” So humility and modesty isn’t a strong point amongst these people.

And so, I started talking to them and Privitera was one of the people I met. I went along and met him in a little resort town called Bad Ragaz in Switzerland where he was living at the time and he told me his story. He was interesting and he was very critical of the industry and really seemed willing to open up about the linkages between government and arms dealers and suppliers like himself — and the companies, the sort of big companies that are usually publicly listed companies like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems. And sort of his criticism was very interesting. And I’d had that from other dealers that I’d interviewed for the book where they were actually quite insightful about the nature of their industry, when they’re honest with themselves.

And I subsequently discovered that I think the reason that Privitera was so critical was partly due to the fact that, we later discovered, he had actually been convicted in a Portuguese court for a fraudulent and corrupt deal that he engineered between Poland and Portugal. And while he was out on appeal he had effectively absconded and he was living in Switzerland. And, extraordinarily, while were interviewing him we went back — we interviewed him twice, we went back for a third interview, in which we were going to confront him about certain things. Because a lot of these guys like Privitera, they claim that they’ve had glorious military histories and they use that in their business. And when we investigated, we often found that they’d never actually been in uniform. They’ve never been in combat. They just think it’s part of a good sales pitch and he was like that. So we were about to confront him about this. We go back to Bad Ragaz to find he’s just nowhere to be found. And, eventually, we get hold of his business partner who tells us that Riccardo has been arrested and is being deported back to Portugal. So we had to go and find him in a Portuguese prison.

Now, the reason he was so angry with the industry was partly because the very senior military generals and officials involved in this corrupt transaction — both in Portugal and in Poland — who were also convicted with him, didn’t land up spending a day in jail or paying a cent in fines. Whereas, Privitera was sentenced to just over seven years which he’s serving now in a Portuguese jail and has to pay a fine of — I think, and I’m open to correction here — but I think it’s around seven million euros. So I think he just feels that the industry has effectively turned its back on him after he’d obviously benefitted a great deal.

So he gave us some quite unique insights as a consequence, where he said, “Of course I paid bribes, that’s how this industry works. It’s all about the money and the sex. And you’ve got to have the very attractive secretaries, to take the people you’re negotiating with, to take their minds off what it is you’re talking about. And you’ve got to be prepared to pay the bribes. And obviously it’s worth paying the bribes because you get the deals as a consequence.”

So he gave great insights. He also gave insights into his views of politicians, which you heard in one of the clips. And he doesn’t think a great deal of politicians. And, having been a politician for a while myself, that created quite an interesting dynamic between us. But I think that he exemplifies and is emblematic of the intermediaries and the middlemen in a lot of these deals, who are all these larger-than-life characters who are prepared to engage in bribery and corruption — many of whom, by the way, are intelligence assets for a number of countries, which is why many of them, Privitera being something of an exception, land up not going to jail for their often illegal activities, but instead, are able to operate with a degree of impunity in something of a parallel legal universe.