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Viktor Bout

03.05.2012 ( Last modified: 01.06.2016 )
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facts

Anatolievitch Bout was born on 13 January 1967. His official birthplace is stated to be close to Douchanbe Tajikistan, whereas he claims that he was born close to the Caspian sea, in Asghabat in Turkmenistan.

A certain confusion surrounds the military career of this former student of the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. Although it is clear that, after graduation, he served in the armed forces of the Soviet Union, it is difficult to determine exactly if it was as a lieutenant in the Soviet army, as a major in the Soviet intelligence service (GRU), as an officer in the Soviet air force or then again as a member of a KGB satellite office in Rome.

Being polyglot, Viktor Bout understood very well from the beginning that he could make good use of his ease with languages, a facility which he reportedly used frequently in providing his services to UN personnel. He is said to speak fluently in Russian, Farsi, English, French, Spanish, Xhosa and Zulu.

He was serving in the military at the Vitebsk Byelorussian base when the Soviet Union broke up and his unit was disbanded in 1991. At the age of 24, he then became involved in arms trafficking. That same year, he left for Angola to work professionally as a translator. Sometime later he decided to set up a company in the air freight business in Africa. The end of the Cold War had led inevitably to the redeployment of hundreds of planes belonging to the Warsaw Pact, and Bout decided to take advantage of this situation. Short takeoff and landing cargo planes could very easily land close to former communist arms depots where the guards had not been paid for several months! The result was that phantom units of the ex Soviet Union started selling war materials at ridiculously low prices and these materials began to be traded on the black market and transferred from such depots straight into the holds of the cargo planes.

In 1992, Viktor Bout acquired his first three Antonov wide bodied aircraft for the sum of USD 120’000. Another version of this story is that Bout had in fact been subsidized by Vladimir Marchenko, Director of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Within a few years, Viktor Bout became the owner of, or at least engaged, several airline companies to transport his arms, such as Air Cess, Aerocom, Transavia, and Centrafrican, but also aircraft registered in Belgium, Kazakhstan and several African countries. Through his professional contacts, he was able to guarantee the procurement of arms from inventories stored in the former eastern bloc (Moldavia, Ukraine and Bulgaria), ensuring their delivery, illegally and without a middleman to numerous actors in Africa, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and the Philippines during the nineties and into the early 2000’s.

From the beginning of the 2000’s the Bout network was up and running perfectly. A host of fictional companies were set up as a front for airline companies in countries where there was little oversight thereby allowing the flights to take place. The use of falsified end use certificates and changes to the final destination whilst still in the air made deliveries that much easier.

Furthermore, these airline companies also carried legitimate merchandise such as frozen food, flowers and even vacuum cleaners.

In order to be able to effectively run his various companies he gave himself various different identities such as: Viktor Anatoljevitch Butt, Viktor Sergitov, Viktor S. Bulakin and finally Viktor Vitali.

Viktor Bout began thus to play a key role in numerous conflicts and became noticed on the international scene on several occasions, notably in 1997 when he was reported to have sold an aircraft to Mobuto Sese Seko, the then president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was also said to have supplied arms to the now defunct regime of Charles Taylor in Liberia, and was also highly suspected of breaching the arms embargo on Sudan. During the civil war in Angola, he reportedly not only supplied UNITA but also the government army with anti-personnel mines then afterwards with demining equipment. However it is subject to controversy as to whether he supplied arms to Al Qaeda shortly after 2001, an accusation which he has always denied.

Nevertheless, in view of his considerable logistic capacity, Bout also contributed to numerous humanitarian and peace keeping operations, providing the UN with transportation for men and materials in Somalia in 1993, or during the Operation Turquoise in Rwanda in 1994, the Iraqi occupation in 2003, then more recently in Indonesia in 2006 after the Tsunami or finally on a regular basis on demand from the World Food Program.

This double dealing in cooperating both with humanitarian organizations but also with unscrupulous clients, allowed Bout to carry on with his trafficking. Even so he was subject to two attempts on his life in 1998.

It is understood that he has at his disposal some sixty aircraft (Antonovs, Iliouchines, helicopters), amounting to the largest privately held fleet in the world. Furthermore, more than a thousand persons are said to work directly or indirectly for him. Thanks to his personal contacts, he is able to guarantee the acquisition of arms from stocks in the former east bloc (Moldavia, Ukraine, Bulgaria), and their delivery without any intermediary.

In 2001, being the subject of sanctions by the UN and with an International Arrest Warrant issued against him, Viktor Bout together with his wife and daughter fled to Moscow where he was able to escape arrest thanks to his 5 passports, his different identities and probably due to support from powerful contacts.

In 2002, the international organization, Interpol published a report entitled “Project Bloodstone” in which it closely reviewed the totality of the African operations carried out by Bout. That same year, as a result of complaint from Belgium for money laundering of 325 million dollars between 1995 and 2001, Interpol issued a strong recommendation that he be arrested.

At the time that a request for sanctions against arms traffickers was lodged with the United Nations, France singled out especially Viktor Bout, just as it was to do when a resolution was voted against Charles Taylor in 2004.

Indeed, it was not really until April 2005, that the extensive commercial empire of Bout began to attract attention. As a result, the American Deputy Secretary to the Treasury announced sanctions against some thirty companies, sanctions which included freezing of Bout’s bank accounts in the USA. Whereas the freeze became effective on 26 April 2005, the Pentagon however continued to take no notice of the Treasury complaints until end 2005. It should be remembered that since 2003, the Pentagon financed hundreds of cargo flights by Bout for the reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, this no doubt being the reason why it was the end of 2005 before the American army relinquished Bout’s services. Though he was excluded from then on from the Iraqi market, Viktor Bout nevertheless did not give up on the other missions which were underway, principally in Afghanistan where deliveries were increasingly necessary due to a return to the offensive by the Taliban.

The story of Viktor Bout inspired a Hollywood production in 2005 called “Lord of War” starring Nicolas Cage.

At the beginning of 2008, just as Viktor Bout was about to enter into a new commercial venture, he was arrested in Bangkok.

 

legal procedure

At the beginning of 2008, just as Viktor Bout was about to enter into a new commercial venture, he was arrested in Bangkok.

This happened on 6 March 2008, when Bout, with the newly adopted name for the occasion of Boris, was preparing to meet a representative of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) in a luxury hotel in Bangkok. The contract to be concluded covered an amount of several million dollars and related to the provision of 5,000 AK assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and 800 ground-air missiles, a hundred of which were to be delivered immediately, dropped by parachute over the jungle. In order to ensure that his contracting partner was trustworthy, Bout had gone as far as to send his trusted right hand man, Andrew Smulian, three times to meet the Columbian buyers. In reality, Bout had fallen into a trap set up conjointly by the Rumanian, Danish Thai and Dutch Antilles police forces together with agents of the American Drug Enforcement Agency, the latter passing themselves off as high ranking officials of the Columbian guerilla.

Since his arrest on 6 March 2008, Viktor Bout, known as “the merchant of death”, has been held in the Klong Prem central prison, a high security prison in Bangkok. Even though the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone has demanded a trial for the deeds carried out by Bout in Africa, the United States also wishes to indict him on four counts, notably for conspiracy against American interests and complicity with the FARC rebels. Viktor Bout has always refuted these allegations. Furthermore, the United States has requested his extradition, which if granted would lead to him being liable to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Confronted with strong pressure from the United States, the Thai authorities promised a decision in total transparency. The extradition hearing began on 22 September 2008. After postponing its decision three times, on the 11 August 2009, the Bangkok Criminal Court finally rejected the request to extradite Viktor Bout to the United States, judging that there were insufficient elements of proof in Thailand to justify his extradition.

In February 2010, Viktor Bout was indicted in the United States for money laundering and fraud in addition to charges concerning arms trafficking for which he was already under indictment. These new charges directed at Bout and a presumed accomplice, Richard Ammar Chichakli, were related to their attempts to acquire two aircraft, in violation of economic sanctions, from companies with their head offices in the USA.

 

context

From 1948 to 1953, Colombia experienced a civil war of rare intensity. Known as “La Violencia”, the conflict opposed the Catholic conservative party with the liberal party, radicalised following the assassination of their leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitan. This conflict is at the origin of the creation of liberals and communist guerrilla movements and of the emergence of self-defense militias of farmers, created in response to abuses committed by the military and the conservative armed groups. They thus gave rise among others, to the creation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which emerged as a military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) a Castroist group. In the beginning these groups received strong support from the rural population especially during the period of the National Front (1958-1978) the Conservatives and Liberals agreed to alternately hold power, leaving no possible alternative political representation. This negation of democracy by a ruling elite created great frustration resulting in violent confrontations between the guerrilla movements and the government.

In the 1980s, the conflict took another dimension with the rise of drug trafficking and the emergence of the first paramilitary groups funded by drug traffickers’ production of cocaine to protect themselves from the guerrillas attacks. In 1984, a ceasefire was declared between the guerrillas and the government but only the FARC made any attempt to comply. They thus formed a political party in 1985, the Patriotic Union (“La Unión Patriótica). However, this party was eventually decimated by paramilitaries and security forces. The FARC resumed the armed struggle in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to coordinate some guerrilla movements and peace agreements with the government, the only active guerillas that remained were the FARC, ELN and to a lesser extent the EPL, which had emerged out of a Maoist branch of the Communist Party of Colombia.

In December 1991, the weakening of the Communist Party and the taking by the army of the FARC secretariat headquarter in La Uribe, a town in the center of the country in the Meta Department forced FARC leaders to change their operating mode. They adopted a military strategy, particularly between 1993 and 1998 with the taking of several villages and military bases during operations involving several hundreds of freedom fighters. The conflict then moved to a phase of warfare in which the government armed forces no longer seemed to be able to control the guerrillas who started to conduct roadblocks, kidnappings, sabotage etc.

Faced with the ineffectiveness of the army, paramilitary militias were constituted with the creation in 1997 of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) under the leadership of Carlos Castaño. Various vigilante groups were also created, and one of their operating modes was to kill civilians in villages who were believed to be favorable to guerrilla movements, as happened during the Mapiripan massacre.

In 1998, President Andrés Pastrana arrived to power and opted for a new strategy. He created a demilitarized zone in order to promote peace talks and to exchange prisoners. Unfortunately, while it has led to some beneficial developments, it has also been used as a way for the FARC to demand ransoms or to recruit new soldiers. The area was finally declared again under government control in February 2002.

President Alvaro Uribe was elected in 2002. Under his mandate in July 2005 the Justice and Peace Law (Ley de Justicia y Paz), which purported to provide a legal framework for the demobilisation of the guerrilla fighters, was adopted. Under the already existing legislation, that of law 418, all fighters participating in the demobilisation were granted amnesty from criminal investigation and prosecution. Only those who had committed the most serious crimes, including acts of barbarism, terrorism, kidnapping, genocide, and killing civilians, were excluded from the amnesty. The Justice and Peace Law was adopted to deal specifically with those fighters who fell outside the scope of the existing amnesty law. According to the new framework, they could still benefit from judicial benefits if they contribute to the justice and reparation process. Therefore, in exchange for truth telling and a promise not to return to lawlessness, the demobilised fighters could obtain sentence reductions. Soon after its adoption, this law was highly criticised as the narrowness of its scope largely hampered its objectives of peace and justice. Indeed, of the more than 30’000 fighters who demobilised between 2003 and 2006, fewer than 10% fell within the purview of the Justice and Peace Law, the rest qualifying for the amnesty under law 418 which did not require any truth telling.

From 2002 to 2010, during his two terms in office, President Uribe adopted a policy of “democratic security”, and implemented “Plan Colombia”. Uribe decided to increase drastically the military response to the guerrillas with the objective of restoring the presence of the state throughout Colombian territory. The army’s budget was raised and this new operational capacity combined with a strong offensive against the FARC by the AUC before their demobilization in 2006, lead to a significant reduction in the number of FARC forces. Here again, while  “the democratic security” strategy adopted by Uribe had some success, it also had limitations. The guerrilla movements intensified; they were fewer but were more mobile than ever before. They continued to inflict severe losses to Colombian government’s forces. In addition, cocaine production still provided large funding to guerrilla movements.

In 2010, the mandate of Juan Manuel Santos began with an upsurge in attacks by the FARC. The government replied with violent counter offensives including that of 23 September 20110, Operation Sodom, which dealt a major blow to the FARC. The FARC military chief Jorge Briceño Suarez was killed in the operation, as well as a significant number of members. After many arrests, the government considered in early 2011 that the FARC were decreasing in size and operations and set the priority to the fight against the heirs of paramilitaries and criminal gangs.

On 27 August 2012, President Santos confirmed that he would meet with the FARC in order to begin peace talks and try to end the conflict. Although controversial, dialogues were conducted during ceasefires, also thanks to the mediation of Hugo Chavez requested by Santos. The peace talks have so far helped to reach an agreement on land reform as well as on political participation and representation of the opposition in the Colombian parliament. The next priority in these dialogues concerns drug trafficking as well as the possible allocation of funds previously associated with the defense budget for the victims in a post conflict Colombia.

Although officially still ongoing, major advances have been made in the Colombian conflict during recent years. So far, the conflict has generated a large number of victims: approximately 180,000 civilians killed, 40,000 combatants killed, 25,000 missing persons and more than 4.7 million displaced. This context of generalized violence has mainly affected the civilian population. Massacres, killings, enforced disappearances, kidnappings have been the everyday life of tens for thousands of people during the conflict.

 

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