Viktor Bout – “The Merchant of Death”

   Viktor Anatolyevich Bout

“The Merchant of Death”

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout (Russian: Виктор Анатольевич Бут; born 13 January 1967) is a Russian arms dealer.

He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 before being extradited in 2010 to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges after having been accused of intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for use against U.S. forces.

On 2 November 2011, he was convicted by a jury in a Manhattan federal court of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization

Viktor Bout
Viktor Bout.jpg
Native name Виктор Анатольевич Бут
Born Viktor Anatolyevich Bout
13 January 1967 (age 51)
DushanbeTajik SSRSoviet Union
Other names Vadim Markovich Aminov, Viktor Bulakin, Victor Anatoliyevich Bout, Victor But, Viktor Budd, Viktor Butt
Known for Convictions for criminal intent to traffic arms and conspiracy to kill

A former Soviet military translator, Bout had reportedly made a significant amount of money through his multiple air transport companies which shipped cargo mostly in Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Bout was equally willing to work with Charles Taylor in Liberia, the United Nations in Sudan, and the United States in Iraq,  and he may have facilitated huge arms shipments during the 1990s into various civil wars in Africa with his private air cargo fleets.

 

 Bout was not driven by ideology; it was all just (extremely lucrative) business. Indeed, when it suited him, and them, he also carried supplies for the British and American governments. He even put his planes at the disposal of UN peacekeepers

 

Bout says he has done little more than provide logistics, but former British Foreign Office minister Peter Hain called Bout a “sanctions buster” and described him 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, on March 6, 2008. The United States ambassador requested his extradition under the Extradition Act between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States, which was eventually mandated by the Thai High Court in August 2010.

Before his extradition to the United States in November 2010, Bout expressed confidence that this U.S. trial would eventually lead to his acquittal, but this did not occur. From January 2011 to June 2012, Bout was incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York City.

Following his conviction, he was sentenced on 5 April 2012 to 25 years imprisonment by a U.S. judge. In June 2012, he was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.

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Viktor Bout – “The Merchant of Death”

 

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victor bout.PNG

 

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Viktor Bout – interview from prison

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Personal History

UN documents and Bout himself both state his birthplace as DushanbeUSSR, (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 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,  and 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.

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 web site 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 being implicated of facilitating 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.

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.

Bout allegedly worked alongside GRU-affiliated, and former 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”.

Orders and warrants regarding Bout

 

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.

Interpol

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. The 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.

CAR trial

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

Thai arrest and extradition

The DEA wanted him just as badly as MI6 and the CIA. The reason it succeeded where others had failed was that it had the foresight to engage the help of a maverick Englishman, a former SAS soldier who had also run an air-freight company in Africa

Bout was arrested in Thailand on an Interpol red notice, and on 16 November 2010 he was extradited amid protests by the Russian Government.

Arrest

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

Extradition hearing

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 his 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.

Extradition

 

Viktor Bout in the custody of DEA agents on 16 November 2010 after being extradited to the United States

On 16 November 2010 Bout was extradited to the United States; the Russian government called the extradition illegal.

Russia’s protests and other actions

Russia called the Thai court decision in 2010 politically motivated. Its Foreign Ministry took steps to prevent Bout being extradited to the U.S.; Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Bout was innocent.

On 18 November 2010, shortly after Bout’s extradition to the United States, Russian President Medvedev‘s aide Sergei Eduardovich Prikhodko 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 18 January 2013, 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 a 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 U.S.

Prosecution and conviction in the United States

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.On 5 April 2012, he 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 denouncing Bout’s sentence as “a political order”. During the trial, Bout’s lawyers also implied that he was a political prisoner.

Bout’s wife Alla said shortly afterwards that the judge conducted the trial in a proper way. Viktor Bout pointed out that if the same standards were applied to everyone, all American gun shop owners—”who are sending arms and ending up killing Americans”—would be in prison.

In June 2013, a co-conspirator of Bout’s, Richard Ammar Chichakli, was extradited to New York on charges that he conspired to buy aircraft in violation of economic sanctions.

In September 2013, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld Bout’s conviction after rejecting Bout’s contention that he had been the victim of a vindictive prosecution and that there was no legitimate law enforcement reason to prosecute him.

As of 2014, former US Attorney General John Ashcroft is representing Bout in over turning his conviction via a new trial.

In the media

The 2005 film Lord of War is purportedly based on allegations about Bout’s personal history and black-market activities.

A documentary about Bout, The Notorious Mr. Bout, from Market Road Films and directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin, received its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

In 2007, Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah published a book about Bout: Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

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Lord of War Trailer

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See:  Operation Man Hunt: Viktor Bout – The Merchant of Death

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