1 november 2008

The rise and fall of Viktor Anatolyevich Bout
(Denis Van den Weghe)

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout is without any doubt the biggest political prisoner of today. For the readers among you that have never heard about Mr. Bout before, I will give you a little introduction in this article. Viktor Bout was born in Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan) during the Soviet Union. He served in the USSR Military and probably even under the GRU (a worldwide Russian secret intelligence service). Before the collapse of the Soviet Union he was stationed in Angola. He is known to speak at least six languages fluently - Russian, Portuguese, Uzbek, English, French and Swahili. In many stories he is referred to as ‘The Merchant of Death’. Little was known about this man, whose life was portrayed in Nicolas Cage's 2005 Hollywood blockbuster 'The Lord of War', but due to the investigation of several intelligence agencies, NGO’s and private persons there are some facts that are certain. I will base this text on the true facts and will leave things in the middle when not sure.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, chaos broke out in all its former states and in a lot of allied communist countries. Around that time, some clever persons with the right connections tried to bend the ruling chaos towards their pocket, to eventually benefit from it. With the idea in their head of ‘stick to what you know’, some made fortunes. Viktor Bout was one of them. His line of business happened to be the Military and more specific, the African continent. Because of the communist ideology, entrepreneurship was never promoted in the USSR and business was something new to each of its members. No predefined rules, business-ethics and history in this matter naturally created an atmosphere of ‘business is business’, whatever the actual traded good was. Trading guns was the same as trading bananas.

So in his mid-twenties, full of energy, ideas and intellectual capacity, young Viktor had the right kind of network and background and lived during the right period to eventually emerge as the biggest and brightest merchant of arms and military materiel that history has ever seen. Getting his weapons and planes from all remote and abandoned military bases across the former USSR, he funnelled them to Africa mostly but also to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan he is known to have delivered goods to both sides of the pre-‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ era. He did similar things in Africa and in many cases the ‘customers’ knew about it but Viktor was their only reliable delivery man, so with their arms tied behind their back, they ignored that fact and kept on doing business with him.

Mr. Bout had a reputation on delivering his goods on time, whatever the circumstances his planes and pilots may have to manoeuvre in. For anyone familiar with heated conflicts, this is quite an achievement. Delivering was hard not only because of the physical circumstances but also because of the UN-enforced weapon-embargoes on some countries. Falsifications of end-user-certificates and other documents where however easily made and, as it seems, where only theoretic barriers put up by bureaucrats behind their desk. Operations ran trough several transit-airports worldwide. He used them to refill for gas and meanwhile to help to erase the trail behind the provenance of the goods he cargoed. Those airports are known to have been in Bulgaria, South Africa, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Sierra Leone, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Through a myriad of front-companies with on-paper directors from all over the world he succeeded for a long time to get his name out of the picture. Various investigators sometimes travelled half the world to interrogate people and mainly find fake addresses, moved offices, inexistent directors or just to try to catch up and follow the trail that his shifting operations left. At any time, Viktor Bout owned a fleet of about 60 heavy cargo planes, which had tail number and registration shifted constantly. Over the years, many people involved in the investigations around him thought that some high-placed persons (mainly in the US and Russia) were keeping their hands above his head so that he could handle his business without inconvenience.

This was their belief because Mr. Bout was one of the big reasons that wars could still be fought on a continent like Africa. He was the means that kept them going. Basically, it would have been easy to bring an end to all this by arresting just one man, the mastermind behind the scenes. But the many agencies from various governments never got to the point of even getting close to him. They lacked resources, manpower and the proper authorisations to conduct their work. In fact, Viktor Bout was on many occasions an ally of the United States, funnelling weapons to embargoed countries and bringing chaos in those areas. This way, nobody could point fingers towards the United States of America and still, ‘things got done’.

This assumption gets all the more acceptable when you take into account that during the first years of the occupied-Iraq, the same American Government that was supposedly trying to catch ‘The Merchant of Death’ relied on companies owned by Viktor Bout to make deliveries of goods all-over Iraq. Only his fleet of cargo-airplanes and only his, mostly Russian, pilots dared to get mixed-up in the roughness of a battlefield. The US denies now that it knew at the time that it was dealing with Bout’s companies. How can they not have known? Every accredited company dealing with the US in Iraq gets overloaded with requested documents, company history and all of this goes trough several levels and needs approvals of high-ranked military personnel, and this over and over again during many shipments and years of deliveries. They were not single flights, but hundreds, worth many millions of dollars and there was nobody who knew? He almost got away with all of it: te Afghan dealings, the rebels and dictators in Africa that he supplied, etc.

Until recently (March 2008), after a several months long operation, he was caught in Thailand because the CIA set him up. Mr. Bout thought he was dealing with high-level leaders of the Colombian FARC but in fact, they were undercover agents pretending to be rebels. This arrest was quite surprising and came at a time where dealings around his persona appeared to be calm. Before his arrest, Viktor Bout lived his last couple of years as a free man in Moscow, the capital of the mighty Russian Federation. International attempts to extradite him failed because the Russian Government didn’t acknowledge his wrongdoings and therefore let him lead his public life openly. The Russians may have supported him indirectly too by unofficially approving his dealings with corrupt Generals of the Military who sold their guns, helicopters, plane and ammunition to him.

After the weapon race of the Cold War, the Military had too much of them stored anyway and it was ageing. A man like Mr. Bout could help them get rid of some of this military build-up and they would then be able to inject this new capital into the economy or into their pockets, who knows what happened. It was the Russian era known as ‘The Crazy Nineties’. After using Viktor Bout as a tool, the US decided that they had enough of him and that it was time to take him in. This is quite surprising, given their past ‘relation’ with the man. He is being accused for terrorism, a word that is often used nowadays even though his dealings cannot really be named as such.

Osama bin Ladin can be called a terrorist, no doubt, but I think it is a dangerous thing to broaden the meaning of the word and apply it on Viktor Bout. For the moment Mr. Bout is therefore the biggest political prisoner in custody and is awaiting his extradition to the US in a Thai cell. Mr. Bout is a hot topic in international courts nowadays. Even the Court in The Hague would like to judge him in the trial around former Liberian President Charles Taylor where he would be accused of conspiracy. All this taxpayers’ money needed to catch him and trial him, while he was long time ‘supported’ in a way could be well-used for other purposes. After all, he is just a man with great intellect and a hell lot of planes who does business ‘creatively’.

Meer teksten van Denis Van den Weghe op www.lvsv.be.
Meer teksten van Vincent De Roeck op www.libertarian.be.


At 1/11/08 13:52, Anonymous Anoniem said...

Against the 'creative' business of Mr.Bout the no less 'creative' intervention of the CIA. Among gangsters it is often difficult tot draw the line between creativity and criminality.

Frans V.

At 1/11/08 15:13, Blogger David Vandenberghe said...

What's exactly the point of this article?

I wouldn't label Viktor Bout as a political prisoner. He got caught doing things he shouldn't have done, that's the end of that.

At 1/11/08 17:39, Anonymous Anoniem said...

@ Brigant

The point Denis and Vincent are trying to make here, is the following: there is nothing wrong with trading guns, so the arrest of Bout is unjustified. Libertarians tend to believe that the trade of ALL goods and services should be legal. Only crimes committed with these goods and services should be punished. The murderer or dictator is to be blamed, not the provider of the guns.

At 1/11/08 19:39, Anonymous Anoniem said...

I'd like to argue this is a bit. I've been doing a lot of research over Viktor Bout. I've read everything from Richard Chichakli's case (look it up if you don't know) to why he's being charged. First, I will agree (I'm an US Citizen by the way) that the US has no right to broaden the meaning of Terrorist to encompass Viktor Bout as well. What's next? If a gun-store owner sells a pistol to a gangster, with no prior knowledge, is he considered a terrorist?

Some actually will argue that he broke UN Embargoes, and that is why he's being sent to prison for life or something along those lines. The truth of the matter is, there is no official criminal charge for breaking embargoes. Not even what they have already done (Freezing all his assets). I personally, honestly, hope that Viktor Bout never gets sent to America. The political and criminal cases in my home country (I'm still living here) are becoming completely unstable. As a non-US citizen Viktor Bout can be held in Guantanamo Bay (with the real terrorists) for his entire life, with no trial. According to how America has set up the law system now, only US Citizens on US soil are allowed to the Bill of Rights and the writ of Habeas Corpus.

Did he break embargoes in my opinion? Yes. But that's not a criminal offense, just a, so to say, no-no by global standards. Should he be punished? I don't know in all honesty. He did what the United States does on a minature scale. US citizens (soldiers) are killing hundreds daily, at least he's not killing. He might be giving those who want to the ability to do so, but let's face it, they'd do it regardless.

Our goal shouldn't be penalizing him, but stabilizing those regions instead of placing embargoes and pushing it all under the rug like it doesn't exist. Because the sad truth in the US, 95% of the people I know and I met, don't even know what Sierra Leone is nor the fact that it's a war-zone with people dying daily.

At 1/11/08 20:06, Blogger David Vandenberghe said...

If you want to stabilise some area's you have to take out illicite arms traffickers. It's not only embargo's that he's broken, probably broke customs regulations as well.

At 1/11/08 23:10, Anonymous Anoniem said...

An article full of unsubstantiated hearsay and conspiratorial speculation on IFF, why not?

At least, the commentary illustrates, as if that was still needed, the folly of much of Western immigration policies. 'Ashengrad' is certainly not a friend of America. Yet, America apparently granted him its citizenship. At the same time, he still talks about his "my home country (I am still living here)". With that kind of mentality, I am not surprised that conditions in his home country "are becoming completely unstable".

Why western countries, particularly America, continue to grant citizenship to many people with chips-on-their-shouders who manifestly dislike their 'adopted country', and who confuse free speech with irresponsible speech, is a mystery. Or is it? No, it isn't really. It is a direct result of the decline of moral virtues, like self-discipline, courage, loyalty....and a couple more.

At 2/11/08 05:49, Anonymous Anoniem said...

Marc H. Just checked up and wanted to say this, I was born here. I was a naturally born citizen of the US, and believe me, it has great benefits. Yes I understand that. I understand that the US has been a great power (even if often other countries had ill feelings of it) in the world for a long time, and I understand that you have some major ill feelings for what I said. The thing is, 1) free speech is a right every citizen of the world deserves. What I'm doing is merely speaking out on what I believe is an important topic.

Don't let my name fool you, the only reason I have that name is because it's due to a game I use to play a lot, called Civilization 3. But that's completely irrelevant.

I was born in the US, I've lived through some of what have been the most chaotic times in the United States (fortunate enough to miss the threat of Nuclear Proliferation though, as I'm still under 18 years old) and I grew up loving my country. But the thing is, part of loving your country is the ability to speak out against it. The reason why the court systems exist, why politics are a back and forth battle, and why judges and protests all happen to exist is because, leaving the country to run your best self-interest is the worst idea. As citizens of the world, and as citizens of our own respective home countries, we must be willing to speak out against it and criticize it's actions, otherwise it will never come into light.

And loving your country and loving your politicians are two completely different conflicting ideas.

At 2/11/08 11:21, Blogger David Vandenberghe said...

Sierra Leone is no longer a warzone to my knowledge.

Bout was caught selling gear to the FARC. FARC is linked to drugs export, which depart from Colombia directly to Mexico or take the scenic route over Venezuela. That's enough for me to put him in jail since the FARC is a terrorist organization and he's willing to furnish them weaponry. That's a no-no.

At 2/11/08 18:25, Anonymous Anoniem said...

@ Ashengrad

OK, you claim to be "a naturally born citizen of the US". So, you are not an immigrant, but you are a product of a rotten education system. I base that judgment on two factors. First, your opinion that you "have lived through some of the most chaotic times in the United States" clearly illustrates that you have a very poor grasp of history. And, second, your earlier comment about "killings" proves (at least to me) that you have no clue about how to make proper moral judgments, or (if you will) how to approach moral dilemmas and to show humility (as opposed to 'fundamentalist' certainty, which comes in infinite variety).

But, since you say that you are less than 18 years old, I will not press either of these two points. I certainly agree with you that "citizens of the world" SHOULD have "free speech". I can assure you that most of them do NOT have it. You have it as an American, and I know of no one in America who is in jail for "free speech". By contrast, I know of many people in Europe who are in jail SIMPLY for "speech" (not deeds or actions), and I know of many laws in Europe who arbitrarily criminalise 'speech'. As to how the rest of the world deals with 'speech', let's not even go there...you will find out as you grow up a bit further.

Finally, indeed loving your country and loving your politicians are two different ideas. They are not necessarily "conflicting" ideas. And, if you truly love your country, you must at least start with a presumption of 'love' and respect for (almost all) your country's politicians, since they are part and parcel of your country's culture and political system. Most of them are people who 'stick their necks out' and perform a necessary role.

You are very young, and have still a high mountain to climb. I hope that eventually you will learn to distinguish (and discriminate!) between silly and serious 'speech', between informed speech and stupid speech, and ultimately between responsible speech and irresponsible speech. I hope that you will make it...eventually.


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