Viktor-Bout

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout, a.k.a. Vadim Markovich Aminov, Viktor Bulakin, Victor Anatoliyevich Bout, Victor But, Viktor Budd, or Viktor Butt (born 13 January 1967, near Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union) is a convicted Russian arms smuggler of Ukrainian origins.

A former Soviet military translator, Bout was allegedly as willing to work for Charles Taylor in Liberia as he was for the United Nations in Sudan and the United States in Iraq.

Known as the “Sanctions Buster”, Bout may have facilitated huge arms shipments into various civil wars in Africa with his private air cargo fleets during the 1990s.

In the 2005 film, “Lord of War”, Nicolas Cage played a thinly-disguised version of Viktor Bout, in a story loosely based on his personal history.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube:

That’s the Hollywood version.

Here’s what history has to tell us:

Bout’s Personal History

UN documents and Bout himself both state his birthplace as Dushanbe, USSR (now the capital of Tajikistan), possibly on 13 January 1967, but a few other birthplaces have been suggested. A 2001 South African intelligence file listed him as Ukrainian in origin.

Soviet Military Service

There is some confusion regarding Bout’s military career, although it is clear that he served in the Soviet Armed Forces.

Having graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, he is said to be fluent in six languages. These include Persian and Esperanto, which he had mastered by age 12. In the early 1980s he was member of the Esperanto club in Dushanbe.

Bout’s personal website states that he served in the Soviet Army as a translator, holding the rank of Lieutenant. He is thought to have been discharged in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Other sources state he rose to the rank of Major in the GRU (an arm of the Soviet military that combines intelligence services and special forces), that he was an officer in the Soviet Air Forces, that he graduated from a Soviet military intelligence training program, or that he was a KGB operative.

Bout was involved with a Soviet military operation in Angola in the late 1980s.

Bout’s Web site states that he began an air freight business in Africa around the time of the collapse of the USSR.

“Sanctions Buster”

Bout’s nickname, “Sanctions Buster”, derives from his being implicated in the facilitation of the violation of UN arms embargoes in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s.

Bout’s air freight companies provided service to the French government, the UN and the U.S.

Bout has reportedly shipped flowers, frozen chicken, UN peacekeepers, French soldiers and African heads of state.

Afghanistan

Bout acknowledges having been to Afghanistan on numerous occasions during the 1990s, but has denied dealing with al Qaeda or the Taliban.

Beginning in 1994, he made shipments for the pre-Taliban government, which later became the Northern Alliance, and knew Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan Northern Alliance commander.

The CIA has described Bout-owned planes as transporters of small arms and ammunition into Afghanistan.

In 1995 he was involved in negotiations to free Russian hostages during the 1995 Airstan incident.

Angola

A 2000 United Nations report stated, “… Bulgarian arms manufacturing companies had exported large quantities of different types of weapons between 1996 and 1998 on the basis of (forged) end-user certificates from Togo”, and that “… with only one exception, the company Air Cess, owned by Victor Bout, was the main transporter of these weapons from Burgas airport in Bulgaria”.

This was the first time Bout was mentioned in connection with arms trading, and the weapons may have been destined for use by União Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA), one faction in Angola’s 1975–2002 civil war.

From 1993, UNITA was under a United Nations Security Council embargo prohibiting the importation of arms, established in Resolution 864.

Another suspected arms dealer, Imad Kebir, is said to have employed Bout’s aircraft during the mid-1990s to transport weapons to Africa from Eastern European states.

The cargo supposedly had Zairean end user certificates, but the true end-user was UNITA.

Sierra Leone

Bout was suspected of supplying Charles Taylor with arms for use in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Eyewitnesses describe personal meetings between the two.

UAE

In 1993 Bout began collaborating with Syrian-born Richard Chichakli and in 1995 Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates hired Chichakli to be the commercial manager of its new free trade zone, which was used by Bout.

Chichakli was, at one time, called Bout’s “financial manager” by the U.S. authorities.

Afghanistan 2000s

After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bout appeared in Moscow and stated that while his aircraft made regular flights to the country, he had never made contact with al Qaeda or the Taliban, instead supplying the rebel Northern Alliance. He may have sold planes to the Taliban, however.

Soon after the beginning of the 2001–present war in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is said to have moved gold and cash out of the country; reports state that some of the planes used to do this were linked to Bout.

Congo

Bout is suspected of supplying weapons to numerous armed groups in the Second Congo War in the 2000s, and may have employed some 300 people operating 40 to 60 aircraft.

Kenya

Bout’s network allegedly delivered surface-to-air missiles used to attack an Israeli airliner during takeoff in Kenya in 2002.

Lebanon

Bout was reportedly seen meeting with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon during the run-up to the 2006 Lebanon War. Some sources claim he was actually in Russia when the meeting allegedly took place.

Libya

Records found in Muammar Gaddafi’s former intelligence headquarters in Tripoli, shortly after the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in 2011, indicated that in late September 2003, British intelligence officials told then-Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa that Bout had a “considerable commercial presence in Libya”, and aimed to expand his interests there.

Places of Residence

Bout has lived in various countries, including Belgium, Lebanon, Rwanda, Russia, South Africa, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

Bout’s strategy of constantly moving location, owning numerous companies, and frequently re-registering aircraft made it hard for authorities to make a case against him. He has never been charged for the alleged African arms deals to which he owes his notoriety.

Alleged Russian Government and Intelligence Ties

It is thought that Bout was of help to Russia’s intelligence agencies, and he is alleged to have connections to ranking Russian officials. The language institute Bout attended has been linked to the GRU, one such agency.

Bout allegedly worked alongside GRU-affiliated, and current Russian deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin in Africa in the 1980s, although both men deny this allegation.

According to a 2002 United Nations report, Bout’s father-in-law Zuiguin “at one point held a high position in the KGB, perhaps even as high as a deputy chairman”.

Interpol

The Belgian authorities requested that Interpol issue a notice for Bout on charges of money laundering, and in 2002 an Interpol red notice on Bout was issued.

Bout’s website states that because he failed to appear in court a Belgian warrant (not the Interpol notice) for his arrest was issued but later cancelled. The site has a document in Dutch to support the claim that the Belgian case against him was dismissed due to his lack of a fixed residence, and because the case could not be prosecuted in a timely fashion.

On the date of his arrest in Bangkok, an Interpol red notice was requested by the United States against Bout. His alleged crime was conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Executive Order 13348

Bout’s U.S. assets were among those frozen in July 2004 under Executive Order 13348. The Order describes him as a “businessman, dealer and transporter of weapons and minerals” and cites his close association with Charles Taylor.

Central African Republic Trial

Charged in 2000 with forging documents in the Central African Republic, Bout was convicted in absentia – but the charges were later dropped.

Thailand Arrest and Extradition

The Royal Thai Police arrested Bout in Bangkok on 6 March 2008, after a sting operation set up by Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Bout allegedly offered to supply weapons to people he thought were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.

After months of delay, the Criminal Court in Bangkok began an extradition hearing for Bout on 22 September 2008.

In February 2009, members of the United States Congress signed a letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton, expressing their wish that the Bout extradition “remain a top priority”.

On 11 August 2009, the Criminal Court ruled in Bout’s favor, denying the United States’ request for extradition and citing the political, not criminal, nature of the case. The United States appealed that ruling.

On 20 August 2010, a higher court in Thailand ruled that Bout could, in fact, be extradited to the United States.

On 16 November 2010 at 1:30 p.m., Bout was extradited to the United States. The Russian government called the extradition illegal.

US Prosecution and Conviction

The day after his Bangkok arrest, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Bout with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill American officers or employees, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile.

Additional charges against him were filed in February 2010. These included illegal purchase of aircraft, wire fraud, and money laundering.

Bout was convicted by a jury at a court in Manhattan on 2 November 2011. The United States government was represented by Anjan Sahni, assisted by Brendan McGuire.

On 5 April 2012, Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison (the minimum sentence) for conspiring to sell weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group.

District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the minimum sentence was appropriate because “there was no evidence that Bout would have committed the crimes for which he was convicted had it not been for the sting operation”.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement rejecting Bout’s sentence as “a political order” and criticizing the U.S. media’s one-sided approach to the story. During the trial Bout’s lawyers also implied that he was a political prisoner.

Russian Protests

On November 18, 2010, shortly after Bout’s extradition to the United States, Russian President Medvedev’s aide Sergei Eduardovich Prikhodko had said that Russia had “nothing to hide” in Bout’s criminal case, stating, “it is in our interest that the investigation … be brought to completion, and [Bout] should answer all the questions the American justice system has.”

On January 18, 2013 however, Russian government officials announced that “judges, investigators, justice ministry officials and special services agents who were involved in Russian citizens Viktor Bout’s and Konstantin Yaroshenko’s legal prosecution and sentencing to long terms of imprisonment” would be added to the “Guantanamo list” of U.S. officials who will be denied Russian entry visas, in response for the U.S. “Magnitsky Act”, under which certain Russian officials are ineligible to enter the United States.

Still a contentious issue, then.

This issue’s over. Hope you’ll join me, for the next one.

Till then.

Peace.

Advertisements