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The rise and fall of Viktor Bout

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 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.

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 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 Viktor Bout 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 businesses without huge inconveniences.

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 US 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 ammo 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, whose life was the biggest inspiration for making Nicolas Cage's 2005 blockbuster "Lord of War", 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’.

Dit artikel van Denis Van den Weghe verscheen ook in het magazine Blauwdruk, bij het LVSV Leuven, en op In Flanders Fields.

Meer teksten van onze "internationale officier" op

14 Reacties:

At 12:10 Vincent De Roeck said...

Ook in deze blogpost zal ik kort even stilstaan bij de actualiteit van de laatste dagen. En om te beginnen nog eerst even dit. Op vraag van enkele lezers van deze weblog heb ik mijn recente PowerPoint-presentatie over economische golven en de bankcrisis online gezet.

Verder zijn ook de herfstedities van New Libertas, het ledenblad van de Europese Liberale Jongeren (LYMEC), en Blauwdruk, het ledenmagazine van het Leuvense Liberaal Vlaams Studentenverbond (LVSV), op het web in PDF beschikbaar. Sinds kort ben ik immers redacteur van “New Libertas” en hoofdredacteur van “Blauwdruk”. Ook zou ik hier nog even wat reclame willen maken voor de studiedag “Groen Liberalisme?” van het Liberaal Vlaams Verbond (LVV) en het LVSV over het verzoenen van ecologie en economie met lezingen van professor Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele (UCL), professor Johan Albrecht (UGent), professor Marcel Wissenberg (UNijmegen) en Vlaams minister Patricia Ceysens (Open Vld). Iedereen is daarop welkom.

Afgelopen weekend had ik het genoegen om een videoconférence met de Tsjechische president Vaclav Klaus te mogen bijwonen in Londen waarop hij in niet mis te verstane bewoordingen de “politieke unie” aanviel en onomstotelijk vaststelde dat Tsjechië het Verdrag van Lissabon niet zal ratificeren tenzij alle andere Europese landen dat zouden doen én het Tsjechische volk die beslissing zou aanvaarden via een bindend referendum. Het mag dan ook niemand verbazen dat de Eurofielen in Brussel met angst in het hart het Tsjechische voorzitterschap van de Europese Unie afwachten. Vanaf 1 januari zijn het immers Vaclav Klaus en Mirek Topolanek die de scepter over de Europese Unie zwaaien. En hun Eurosceptische uitlatingen én anti-overheidsgevoelens (Tsjechië blijft nog als enige Europese land voor 100% in het kapitalisme en de vrije markt geloven) doen die angst zeker nog niet meteen wegebben.

Vorige week besliste de Europese Unie om de banden met Cuba te normaliseren. Natuurlijk kende de EU voorheen geen embargo à la americaine, maar toch bestonden er een hele resem restricties tussen de EU-lidstaten en de communistische dictatuur op het eiland. En aan die minimalistische beperkingen komt nu dus ook een einde aan. Tegelijkertijd keurde de EU deze maand een akkoord goed met de Maghreb-landen dat op termijn moet leiden tot een "Mediterrane Unie" en waarbij we onze soevereiniteit niet enkel overgeleverd hebben aan de grillen van de Fransen, de Grieken of de Roemenen, maar ook aan de Marokkanen, de Tunesiërs of de Libiërs. Als klap op de vuurpijl verklaarde Silvio Berlusconi vorige week dan ook nog dat hij Rusland lid wil zien worden van de EU. Alexandra Colen becommentarieerde dit alles schitterend op de website van het New Yorkse "Hudson Institute" onder de alleszeggende titel "Building the European Empire". Colen is, ondanks haar lidmaatschap van het VB, een degelijke politica waarvoor ik oneindig veel respect heb.

De SP.a kwam dan weer in het nieuws met het voorstel van Maya Detiège en Marleen Temmerman om voortaan de pil en condooms gratis te maken voor jongeren. Net alsof de jeugd vandaag nog ergens hindernissen ondervindt om aan beide te geraken. En net alsof het promoten van promiscue seks een kerntaak van de overheid geworden is! Voor mijn part doet elk individu wat hij wil, daar niet van, maar de samenleving laten opdraaien voor het stillen van de sekshonger van pubers, is voor mij een brug te ver. CD&V deed haar duit dan weer in het zakje door cash-transacties boven de 10,000 euro (vandaag 15,000 euro) bij wet te gaan verbieden. Of hoe de ziekelijke zoektocht naar extra geld voor de begroting de vrijheid van de burgers fnuikt. Of zoals Thomas Sowell het wist te zeggen: telkens als de overheid keuzes afneemt van de burgers, ongeacht de goede bedoelingen, zal ze bepaalde burgers slechter af maken.

De topfuncties van Jean-Luc Dehaene bij Dexia en Steve Stevaert bij Ethias bewijzen in mijn ogen maar één enkel ding: het financieel systeem in dit land is zo afhankelijk geworden van politieke steun, dat enkel politiekers nog kans maken op die jobs. Degelijke bankiers worden geweerd ten voordele van politici met contacten in Brussel. Slechte investeringen worden niet gemaakt uit onkunde, maar gewoon uit een correcte kostenbatenanalyse. De monsterwinsten zijn voor het bedrijf, de verliezen voor de belastingbetalers. De kreet van Vincent Van Quickenborne om de ontslagpremies te plafonneren, is al evenmin aanvaardbaar. Aandeelhouders bepalen de inhoud van de contracten, niet de overheid. En de lonen in België liggen lager dan in het buitenland. Willen we competente executives aantrekken, moeten we zeker niet afkomen met beperkingen op de ontslagpremies want zo orchestreren we enkel onze eigen braindrain.

Barack Hussein Obama spendeerde 3 miljoen USD op één enkele avond aan commercials op alle zenders, maar kreeg daar geen kritiek op. Sarah Palin gaf 150,000 USD uit aan representatiekosten en werd daarvoor aan de schandpaal genageld. Wie is hier dan eigenlijk de verkwister? En ook de bewering in vele kranten dat Palins garderobe door de Amerikaanse belastingbetaler bekostigd wordt, is een leugen. Palin werkt, net als de andere kandidaten, met private fondsen. In tegenstelling tot Europa moeten de politici in de VS immers zelf instaan voor hun campagnemiddelen en niet de belastingbetalers.

Nationaliseringen zijn opnieuw alomtegenwoordig in het maatschappelijke debat. En daarom vergeten we vaak andere confiscaties in beschouwing te nemen. Vorige week nam de overheid immers diamanten ter waarde van 150 miljoen euro in beslag in Antwerpen. Zogezegd om een onderzoek naar het bewuste bedrijf te kunnen voeren, maar in de praktijk betekent het verlies van deze assets een enorme aderlating voor het bedrijf dat nu natuurlijk op de grens van het bankroet moet opereren. Of hoe onze overheid kennelijk liever zichzelf verrijkt en de goed draaiende diamantbedrijven uit Antwerpen ziet wegtrekken naar vriendelijkere landen als India of Dubai.

De Franse openbare omroep mag geen reclame meer uitzenden. Eindelijk wordt eens paal en perk gesteld aan de valse concurrentie tussen privé-spelers en de openbare omroep. Nu België nog!

At 17:29 Erwin said...

Allereerst: ik lees met veel plezier en instemming de bijdragen op deze metablog.

Los van mijn persoonlijke voorkeur voor McCain dan wel Obama vraag ik me wel af waarom u het steeds over 'Barrack Hoessein Obama' heeft, terwijl u McCain niet aanduid als zijnde 'John Sidney McCain III'.

At 17:29 Anoniem said...


Gewoon om Obama te linken aan Moslims en terrorisme. Verder moet je het niet zoeken, vrees ik.

Frans V.

At 17:32 Danish Dynamite said...

Franske, jij bent hier de eerste die de link met Obama, moslims en terreur maakt hoor. Misschien meldt Vincent dat gewoon als leuk weetje. Ik zou er niets achter zoeken. Net zomin als bij sommige redacteuren die over 'Filip' Dewinter en 'Francis' Van den Eynde spreken, ipv over 'Philip' en 'Séraphin'...

At 17:36 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 17:37 Brigant (op IFF) 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 17:39 Danish Dynamite 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 21:53 Ashengrad 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 21:53 Brigant (op IFF) 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 09:49 Marc Huybrechts (op IFF) said...

Voor zijn middelnaam kan men Obama niet verantwoordelijk stellen.
Hij heeft die zelf niet kunnen kiezen. En, stricto sensu is daar niets verkeerd mee.

Maar, Obama's manifeste 'links' met bepaalde moslems-met-terrorisme-sympathieen en met bepaalde binnenlandse (ex?)terroristen, die komen volkomen op zijn eigen conto terecht. Die links zijn trouwens niet verbazend meer. Zij zijn courant in een bepaald deel van academia en media vandaag, in de huidige staat van morele verloedering.

Voor het feit dat vandaag vele 'linksen' en zelfs 'rechtsen' (en andere begeesterde slachtoffers of groupies van Obamania) liefst die manifeste (gedocumenteerde) "links met "moslems en terrorisme" willen negeren, daar is Obama dan weer niet zelf verantwoordelijk voor. Dat komt volkomen op het conto van al die naievelingen. Over de motivaties van de meeste van die mensen wil ik zelfs niet beginnen, want dat is wel degelijk zeer deprimerend.

At 09:50 Marc Huybrechts (op IFF) 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 09:51 Ashengrad 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 11:29 Brigant (op IFF) 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 18:32 Marc Huybrechts (op IFF) 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 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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