Friday, April 6, 2012

Viktor Bout

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout (Russian: Виктор Анатольевич Бут) (born 13 January 1967, near Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union) is a convicted arms smuggler. A citizen of Russia, he was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and was extradited in 2010 to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges after being accused of smuggling arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to use against US forces. On November 2, 2011, he was convicted by a jury in a federal court in Manhattan of conspiracy to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles and provide aid to a terrorist organization.

A former Soviet military translator, Bout had reportedly made a significant amount of money through his multiple air transport companies shipping cargo mostly in Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s (decade). Just as willing to work for Charles Taylor in Liberia as he was for the United Nations in Sudan and the United States in Iraq, Bout may have facilitated huge arms shipments into various civil wars in Africa with his private air cargo fleets during the 1990s.

While claiming to have done little more than provide logistics, he has been called a "sanctions buster" by former British Foreign Office minister Peter Hain who described Bout as "the principal conduit for planes and supply routes that take arms... from east Europe, principally Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, to Liberia and Angola".

In cooperation with American authorities, Royal Thai Police arrested Bout in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2008. The United States demanded his extradition, which was eventually mandated by the Thai High Court in August 2010. Before his extradition to the United States in November 2010, he expressed confidence that this U.S. trial would eventually lead to his acquittal. This did not occur. As of January 2011 Bout was incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York City. On April 5, 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a U.S. judge.

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 also connecting him with "Russian crimes" organized by "Soviet empire" .

Soviet military service : There is 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 mastered already at the age of 12, and in the early 1980's 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. But 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. He has said he was in Angola for only a few weeks. Bout's website states that he began an air freight business in Africa around the time of the collapse of the USSR.

1990s : Bout's nickname, "Sanctions Buster", is due to his implication in facilitating the violation of UN arms embargoes in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s.

As well as some more-controversial customers such as Charles G. Taylor, his air freight companies have provided service to the French government, the UN and the US. Bout has reportedly shipped flowers, frozen chicken, UN peacekeepers, French soldiers and African heads of state.

Afghanistan : Bout says he has been to Afghanistan many times in the mid-1990s, but he denies any dealings with al Qaeda or the Taliban. He may have sold planes to the Taliban, however.  Some say he also delivered them arms.

Starting in 1994 Bout made shipments for the pre-Taliban government, which later became the Northern Alliance, and he 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 the negotiations to free Russian hostages during the 1995 Airstan incident.

Africa : 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.

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

Sierra Leone : Bout is 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 saw use from Bout. Chichakli was, at one time, called Bout's "financial manager" by the US.

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.

Afghanistan : 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.

In July 2003 the New York Times interviewed Bout. Bout stated that "I woke up after Sept. 11 and found I was second only to Osama.... My clients, the governments... I keep my mouth shut." He pointed to his forehead and said “If I told you everything I’d get the red hole right here". When the journalist asked about Russian intelligence services, Bout replied "Until now you’ve been digging in a big lake with small spoons. There are huge forces..." and then stayed quiet.

Congo : Bout is suspected of supplying weapons to numerous armed groups in the early 2000s (decade) Second Congo War and may have employed an estimated 300 people and operated 40-60 aircraft to do so.

Kenya : Bout's network allegedly delivered surface-to-air missiles that were 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 state he was actually in Russia when the meeting took place. Israel later found out that Hezbollah had Russian-made RPG-29 Vampir and 9K129 Kornet anti-tank weaponry. Bout reportedly worked with an arms dealer named Imad Kabir during this time.

Libya : Records found in Muammar Gaddafi's former intelligence headquarters in Tripoli, shortly after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime 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 a number of countries, including Belgium, Lebanon, Rwanda, Russia, South Africa, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

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, including Igor Sechin. The language institute Bout attended has been linked to the GRU, one such agency. Bout is thought to have worked alongside GRU-affiliated, and current Russian deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin in Africa in the 1980s, although both men deny this allegation. And 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".

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