By: Kathryn Cramer at May 17, 2004
The Financial Times has a fascinating story I have not yet seen in any of the US media: US seeks to protect weapons trafficker. It's about a Russian mafia guy, Victor Bout, alleged to be the world's biggest arms trafficker: The US is pressing for a notorious arms trafficker allegedly involved in supplying coalition forces in Iraq to be omitted from planned United Nations sanctions, in defiance of French demands.
Washington has UK support in resisting French efforts to freeze the assets of Victor Bout, once described by a UK minister as a "merchant of death" for his role as a leading arms supplier to rebel and government forces in several African conflicts, including Liberia.
The UN is considering who should be on a list of individuals whose assets will be frozen because of their involvement with the ousted regime of Charles Taylor, the Liberian leader overthrown last year.
Western diplomats say they have been told of reports that an air freight company associated with Mr Bout, who is subject to a UN travel ban because of his activities in Liberia, may be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq and that the US may be "recycling" his extensive cargo network.
In 2000, Peter Hain, then British foreign office minister responsible for Africa, described Mr Bout as "the chief sanctions-buster and . . . a merchant of death who owns air companies that ferry in arms" for rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone.
A former UN official familiar with the sanctions process said he had also heard of Mr Bout's Iraq connection. The ex-official said he had been told by a reliable source about a month ago that "the American defence forces are using Victor's planes for their logistics".
It really is too bad that the US couldn't afford planes of its own and has to rent them from criminals! But seriously, it seems to me that this equipment may be leased to covert US operations such as those described by Hersh, rather then by the regular troops.
Here's what PBS's Frontline had to say about Victor Bout a couple of years ago:
Victor Bout is the poster boy for a new generation of post Cold War international arms dealers who play a critical role in areas where the weapons trade has been embargoed by the United Nations.
Now, as FRONTLINE/World reports in "Gunrunners," unprecedented U.N. investigations have begun to unravel the mystery of these broken embargoes, many of them imposed on African countries involved in bloody civil wars. At the heart of this unfolding detective story is the identification of a group of East European arms merchants, with Victor Bout the first of them to be publicly and prominently identified. The U.N. investigative team pursued leads that a Mr. Bout [pronounced "butt" in Russian] was pouring small arms and ammunition into Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Congo, making possible massacres on a scale that stunned the world.
And check this out, from the same PBS piece:
Afghan and U.A.E. air industry sources reported a meeting between "two Russians" and the United Arab Emirates representative of Ariana, the Afghan national airline, in which it was agreed that Bout's Air Cess would provide wheels, tires and other military goods for the Taliban air force. Flying Dolphin would provide charter flights when Ariana was unavailable.
The Afghan permanent representative to the United Nations, citing Afghan and American intelligence reports, said Ariana flights from Sharjah had transported chemical poisons to Kandahar: "cyanide and other toxic substances purchased in Germany, the Czech Republic and Ukraine." He said the Taliban "had nothing to do with this. These chemicals were for Bin Laden and his people. It was some of the chemicals they were using in experiments." Earlier, the US had reportedly pressured the U.A.E. to clamp down on Bout's operations, which simply resulted in his moving to a neighboring Emirate.
. . .
News organizations around the world, pressing hard to break new stories about Al Qaeda, along with western officials eager to be seen as fighting terrorism may be inflating Bout's significance in describing him as heading "what some officials call the largest arms trafficking network in the world." Such claims were never made before evidence emerged linking Bout to the Taliban. And even if true, the mandate of the U.N. arms investigations - limited to violations of country-specific embargoes - and the nature of the illicit arms trade make it impossible to confirm. Most experts would agree that he is the largest known illicit trafficker in Africa. Beyond that, the extent of his activity is very difficult to pin down.
Why is this guy one of our trading partners and not in a jail cell? And why are we helping him out of a jam with the UN?
Here's a discussion of Bout from a meeting of the UN Security Council, Thursday, 22 February 2001. The speaker is a "Ms. Lee" of Singapore:
Clearly, the arms and diamonds industries have spawned a very profitable war economy, such that the diamonds industry, which was the resource for the arms, has in turn generated an arms industry to protect the diamonds. It is a stalemate that has a high price: violence for economic control. . .
We are here today to review the recommendations of the Mechanism on the effectiveness of the implementation of the many sanctions against UNITA and to consider appropriate action against the sanctions-busters. . . .
In the case of the diamonds sanctions, modes of circumvention similar to those being used in the Sierra Leone sanctions as described in the Ayafor report appear to have been used to conceal the true origin of diamonds from UNITA mines. These include the potential loopholes found in the Swiss tax-free zones. However, a serious allegation was made in paragraph 181 of the Mechanism's report: that well known clients of De Beers are knowingly buying rough diamonds from UNITA. This and other questionable methods uncovered by the Mechanism require further investigation as to the validity of the findings.
On the issue of sanctions-busting, the report mentions some familiar names. On the use of aircraft for sanctions-busting, Victor Bout has been identified as a key player, as has Air Cess. The countries named in the report as being the countries of origin for arms exports to UNITA, and those accused of complicity in permitting the forging of end-user certificates for arms imports, should address the issues raised in the report.
What is most disturbing in the Mechanism's report are the common criminals described in it, namely Victor Bout, Fred Rindel and the European network connection -- they are "common" because they appear to be the same individuals named in the Ayafor report for activities linked to the trade in illicit diamonds and arms in relation to Sierra Leone. If sanctions-busters continue to be "rewarded" and not punished for their acts, the damage will not be limited to the exploitation of the resources of Angola. It will undermine the credibility of the United Nations itself, because the sanctions imposed against UNITA are one of the tools of the Security Council for carrying out its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
(Note that Fred Rindel, mentioned in the same breath, came up in the N4610 scandal in connection to Dodson Aircraft.)
UPDATE: There is a new Financial Times story, UK set to support sanctions on arms dealer:
ritain is now expected to support French demands to freeze the assets of arms trafficker Victor Bout, amid growing signs that Washington may also drop its objections to action being taken against him.
The decision by the UK has emerged since a controversy erupted when it became clear that the US and UK were seeking other ways to target Mr Bout. The Ukrainian is living in Moscow. One of his companies is said by several diplomats to be involved in supplying US forces in Iraq.
Back to Victor Bout's file