Steven Seagal, your weird drunk uncle’s favorite action star from the 1990s, is the new pitchman for a United Arab Emirates-based defense company whose armored cars have wound up in war-torn countries, potentially in violation of international laws and treaties.
But hey, he really really wants you to know about this cool new electric battle wagon called The Storm.
“It is gorgeous and does a lot of great things,” Seagal, the actor of Under Siege and On Deadly Ground, recently said at the International Defence Exhibition & Conference in Abu Dhabi.
“It goes on water, goes on land — it is armored and bomb proof,” he said. “That thing is amazing. If I could have any one of those vehicles, I’d have that one.”
Seagal was at the arms symposium as a ‘brand ambassador’ for STREIT Group, an armored vehicle manufacturer founded in Canada in 1992 that’s now based in the UAE. And let’s be real: the scare quotes are warranted because having Steven Seagal as your brand ambassador is scary.
That’s because Seagal is like the knock-off version of Nicolas Cage: He will do just about any job, not just star in a movie as a cop, soldier, federal agent, or Ex-Navy SEAL turned-cook who doesn’t play by the rules but gets results — all of which are basically the same, and all are roles Seagal has actually had.
No, he will do, and has done, just about anything you can think of: Drive a tank into a house alongside disgraced lawman Joe Arpaio? Yep. Accidentally kill a puppy in the process of filming a reality TV show? Yeah, all that actually happened during a police raid on the home of a man suspected of running a cock-fighting ring in Arizona. Seagal is also an honorary member of PETA — they may not have heard about the puppy — and once released an album with Stevie Wonder. Seriously, in 2005 Seagal released Songs from the Crystal Cave with an appearance by the acclaimed musician. And let’s not forget the time he was once hand-fed carrots by Belarussian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who’s been referred to as Europe’s last dictator.
Other accolades attributed to Seagal include launching a now-defunct energy drink line, being deputized in Doña Ana County, N.M., training law enforcement personnel across the country, and accidentally breaking Sean Connery’s wrist while preparing him for the 1983 Bond flick Never Say Never Again.
In recent years, Seagal began cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has been granted Russian citizenship, as well as Serbian citizenship. He briefly served as a pitchman for Kalashnikov USA, before he was dropped from the role amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Additionally, Seagal was temporarily designated as Russia’s special envoy to the U.S. in 2018 amid accusations he’d engaged in sexual misconduct in the U.S.
After a while, Seagal’s life in headline form starts to read like a collection of crazy awful Snapple Facts, but instead of a fruit beverage with some neat piece of information on the bottle cap, it’s a questionable energy drink with increasingly bizarre actions written in crayon on the bottom in lieu of an expiration date.
But enough about Seagal’s past. Let’s turn our attention back to our favorite C-list actor turned D-list Lord of War’s current gig.
“I’m interested in weapons, military history, tanks and armored cars and I’d heard about STREIT, I was very impressed,” Seagal said, before going on to claim that the company’s “armored vehicles are probably the best in the world.”
It’s unclear where the STREIT Group’s new armored vehicle, The Storm, ranks among others in its class since so little information is publicly available. But it is indeed aesthetically slick and looks like a Lamborghini had a baby with an F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.
Part of the reason that it’s difficult to say how The Storm stacks up against competitors, or just how ‘electric’ it really is — are we talking Electric Boogaloo or are we talking ‘up-armored Prius’ electric — is due in part to the fact that the company’s website was down at the time of publication, and though it is up now, there’s hardly any information on there about the armored vehicle they showed off at the symposium. And little is mentioned on the company’s social media pages about their own products, or anything at all, save for a slideshow on Instagram showing Seagal cheesing in front of a different military vehicle.
Among people who have either been in the military, work in, or report on the defense industry, there’s an instinct to greet most new-fangled pieces of gear with a bit of skepticism, seeing as defense contractors have a long history of over-promising and under-delivering.
In his interview with The National, an English-language newspaper in the UAE, Seagal described STREIT Group this way: “It provides armored vehicles to countries that maybe get attacked so they could be protected.”
Despite Seagal’s rosy description of STREIT, there’s more to the armored vehicle manufacturer, including business dealings with alleged gang members. The company may have also illegally sold armored vehicles in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Libya, according to multiple reports.
In 2016, the Canadian news organization CBC reported that the “Streit Group, through its factory in the United Arab Emirates, exported 173 Cougar and Typhoon armored troop carriers to South Sudan in 2014.” That deal was criticized by a United Nations panel after images surfaced of the company’s armored vehicles being used in combat by South Sudan’s military, despite the fact that they were supposed to go to the country’s Interior Ministry for use by the police.
The act of selling equipment, in this case roided-out SUVs, that had been earmarked for policing or personal security for government officials, and then using them for war, is a common tactic in arms trafficking called “diversion.” It’s also against international law, as CBC reported in 2016.
And in Libya, armored vehicles from STREIT Group found their way into militant hands, potentially in breach of international sanctions. In 2014, for example, at least 79 of the company’s patrol vehicles found their way into the country, which was wracked by a violent civil war.
However, In 2019, the Canadian government was forced to throw up its hands and admit that, despite the numerous allegations levelled at the company, the STREIT Group was simply beyond its reach due to its distribution of operations overseas.
And STREIT’s sketchy dealings don’t appear to be wholly new, either. The U.S. slapped the company with a $3.5 million fine for illegal exports between 2008 and 2009 over vehicles sent between the UAE, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Singapore without the required licenses from the Department of Commerce.
So perhaps Seagal may be the perfect brand ambassador after all, considering the company’s questionable decisions, the investigations, globe-trotting business misadventures, and general shadiness. And you can take that all the way to bank. The blood bank, that is…
Feature Image: A screenshot from a video by The National showing actor Steven Seagal at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, alongside a screenshot of ‘The Storm’ an armored vehicle by the STREIT Group which was unveiled at the expo. (Screenshot via The National)