Skip to comments.Thais detain alleged `Merchant of Death' (dealings include global illicit arms trafficking)
Posted on 03/06/2008 6:46:51 PM PST by NormsRevenge
BANGKOK, Thailand - A Russian dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly supplying weapons to Africa's bloody conflicts over power and diamonds was arrested Thursday in Thailand on suspicion of conspiring to smuggle guns to Colombia's leftist rebels.
Viktor Bout, 41, whose dealings reportedly inspired a 2005 movie about the illicit arms trade, was arrested at U.S. request in his hotel room in Bangkok, said police Lt. Gen. Pongpat Chayapan. Bout had eluded arrest for years and was finally seized after a four-month sting organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
In New York, federal authorities unsealed a criminal complaint charging that Bout conspired to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including 100 surface-to-air missiles and armor-piercing rockets, that he thought were going to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
The leftist group, which has been fighting Colombia's government for more than four decades, is listed by the U.S. as a terror group. Bout and an associate, Andrew Smulian, were charged with "conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization."
Thai police Col. Petcharat Sengchai said Smulian was still being sought.
Bout, who has never before been prosecuted for arms selling despite investigations in several countries, has always denied being involved in illicit deals. The paunchy businessman was shown briefly by Thai police to reporters; he stared blankly and made no comment.
The criminal complaint in New York said confidential sources directed by the DEA posed as FARC members while negotiating from November to February to buy arms from Bout.
Noting that lengthy investigation, a law enforcement official in Washington said there was no link between Bout's arrest and the weekend seizure by Colombian troops of a top FARC leader's laptop computer. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
In New York, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia would not say how much the weapons involved in the alleged deal were worth but said the cost of transporting them alone was set at $5 million. He said the weapons were to be parachuted to FARC fighters in Colombian territory.
The arrest "marks the end of the reign of one of the world's most wanted arms traffickers," Garcia said.
Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, allegedly built his contacts in the post-Soviet arms industry into a business dealing arms to combatants in conflicts around the world. He is generally believed to have been a model for the arms dealer portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 movie "Lord of War."
Bout's best-documented activities have been in Central and West Africa, where he has been accused of funneling weapons into various civil wars since the early 1990s.
In 2000, Peter Hain, then Britain's Cabinet minister for African affairs, called Bout "the chief sanctions-buster" flouting U.N. arms embargoes on the warring parties in Angola and Sierra Leone, dubbing the Russian "a merchant of death."
Bout also reportedly supplied arms to warring parties in Afghanistan before the 2001 fall of the Taliban's Islamic regime.
One of his companies also served as a subcontractor involved in transporting U.S. military personnel and private U.S. contractors in Iraq, according to a book about Bout by journalists Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun published last year.
The book, "Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible," also says a plane in Bout's fleet made several airdrops of weapons to FARC guerrillas between December 1998 and April 1999. It says the flights dropped about 10,000 weapons to the rebels, "enabling them to greatly enhance their military capabilities."
In 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department said: "Bout has the capacity to transport tanks, helicopters and weapons by the tons to virtually any point in the world. The arms he has sold or brokered has helped fuel conflicts and support U.N. sanctioned regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan."
U.N. reports say Bout set up a network of more than 50 aircraft around the world, owned by shadowy companies with names such as Bukavu Aviation Transport, Business Air Services and Great Lakes Business.
Bout's list of alleged customers in Africa includes former dictator Charles Taylor of Liberia, the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now known as Congo, and both sides of the civil war in Angola.
A U.N. travel ban imposed on Bout said he supported the effort of Taylor's regime in Liberia to destabilize neighboring Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds. West Africa's diamonds have become known as "blood diamonds" for the warring they have inspired.
In October 2006, President Bush issued an executive order freezing the assets of Bout and several associates and warlords in Congo and barring Americans from doing business with them. They were accused of violating international laws involving targeting of children or violating a ban on sales of military equipment to Congo.
The U.S. Treasury's 2005 sanctions announcement said air transport companies controlled by Bout "played a key role in supplying arms to Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia and the Sierra Leone rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front," both of which were notorious for inflicting atrocities on civilians.
In 2002, Belgium issued an international arrest warrant for Bout through Interpol, the international police agency, on charges of money-laundering and criminal conspiracy.
Bout is believed to have served in an air transport unit of the Russian military until about 1991. He built his business on the huge drawdown of weapons and aircraft in the former Soviet bloc of eastern Europe as the Cold War waned.
A 2005 report by Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, alleged Bout was "the most prominent foreign businessman" involved in trafficking arms to U.N.-embargoed countries. It implicated Bout in transferring "very large quantities of arms" from Ukraine that were delivered to Uganda via Tanzania aboard a Greek-registered cargo ship.
Bout's businesses included many legitimate operations as well, according to a report by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
"Bout's companies shipped vegetables and crayfish from South Africa to Europe, transported United Nations peacekeepers from Pakistan to East Timor, and reportedly assisted the logistics of Operation Restore Hope, the U.S.-led military famine relief effort in Somalia in 1993," said the center's 2002 report.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Strategies and Technologies, described Bout as a rich "adventurist, one of these guys who emerged at the start of the 1990s and started pumping weapons from the former Soviet Union into Africa."
Associated Press writers Larry Neumeister in New York, Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington, Ambika Ahuja and Grant Peck in Bangkok, and Douglas Birch and Peter Leonard in Moscow contributed to this report.
Treasury Department site on Bout:
Center for Public Integrity report on Bout:
Yes we know. And in a gray world, has helped us many times in Afghanistan.
Thai police escort Russian Viktor Bout, center, as he arrives at the head of the
Crime Suppression Bureau in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday March 6, 2008.
Bout, one of the world's most notorious arms dealers was arrested Thursday
in Bangkok on allegations that he supplied Colombian rebels with arms and
explosives, Thai police said. (AP Photo)
By Douglas Farah
It seems as though the fingerprints of Viktor Bout, arms trafficker extraordinaire, can be found in most places that have had trouble in recent years. The most recent intelligence reports I received come from Bosnia, and show Bout has been an active partner of Mr. Hasan Cengic, the head of radical Islam in Bosnia and key organized crime figure. Interesting how Bout shows up in numerous Muslim-related conflicts, often where U.S. policy makers are having a particularly difficult time in getting weapons to one side or the other.
The paper trail left by Bout in Bosnia makes it hard to discern exactly what he was up to there, but in March 2001 he was leasing two Illyushin Il-72s from BIO Air Services, and had them based in Sarjah, UAE. Cengic, on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of banned individuals and chief arms provider to the Bosnia Muslims during the Bosnia conflict (where al Qaeda and other radical elements, led by Cengic, took control of the lucrative arms trade), controls BIO Air. The European intelligence report says that BIO Air leased two of its aircraft to Bout after illegally importing them into Bosnia in the first place. Before the aircraft were owned by BIO Air they belonged to Atlas Iran. Cengic spent much of the Bosnia war in Iran and worked as an Iranian intelligence agent.
Hasan Čengić (born August 30, 1957 in Foča, Bosnia and Herzegovina) is the former Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A Muslim cleric, he was convicted together with the future president Alija Izetbegovic by the communist regime of Yugoslavia in 1983 and served 5 years of a 10 year sentence.
He is a member of a powerful clan headed by his father, Halid Čengić, the main logistics expert in the Bosnian army and a senior official, with his sons, in Bosnia's Agencija za Informacije I Dokumentaciju (AID) intelligence agency. Hasan Čengić has travelled frequently to Tehran since 1983 and has been deeply involved in Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia. During the Bosnian War, he lived in Tehran and Istanbul. According to Austrian police, Čengić was on the supervisory board of the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), a Sudan-based, phoney humanitarian organization connected to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network. Čengić's involvement was confirmed by the TWRA's director, Elfatih Hassanein.
Well informed sources in Sarajevo claim that only Hasan addressed Izetbegovic with 'ti' [second person singular, used as an informal form of address] while all the others addressed him as 'Mr. President,'" a sign of his extraordinary degree of intimacy with the president.
As minister for refugee resettlement after the conflict, he has been accused of intimidating Serb refugees returning to their homes, but never convicted.
Čengić is the business partner of Russian mobster, arms dealer and former KGB officer Viktor Bout, nicknamed "the Merchant of Death". In May 2006, when 200,000 AK-47 assault rifles went missing in transit from Bosnia to Iraq, one of Bout's airlines was the carrier.
But,..but...only privileged white American Christians are weapons dealers,..Hollywood would never distort the truth for thinly veiled propaganda.
How is it that the slugs of the DEA are properly involved in arms trafficking??? And how is it that the U.S. government is assuming any sort of jurisdiction over a foreign national in a foreign country doing business in ANOTHER foreign country? Maybe ol' Viktor Bout is a sleazeball and should be strung up by the cajones, but just how is that OUR business if he has not tried to sell arms to Democrats in THIS country???? Enquiring minds want to know!
He allegedly tried to smuggle arms to the Colombian FARC, a guerilla group which funds it’s war effort by drug trafficing, so it can be considered a DEA matter (although very, VERY loosly).
I think the authorities were looking for any way to bring Bout into custody. Now that they have him under arrest, they have easier access to search warrants and can now look for other things to charge him with.
Personally, if he was involved with supplying arms to Al-Qaeda, I'd string him up from the nearest telephone pole. But that's just me.
See, i was wondering if that supposed * deal * with FARC was soon-coming...if he had recently communicated with Raul or whatever his name is that got killed by the Colombians the other day.
Could it be that Hasan Cengic and his father Halid Cengic had done work on behalf of the US during Clinton...see Bosnia.
This was not a run of the mill arms merchant....this boy played with the superpowers.
What the hell was he doing in Thailand.
“What the hell was he doing in Thailand.”
Bang tee waa, khaw chawb pu-ying, ruu, dek-puchay.
The U.S. has advisors in Columbia to aid in their anti-narcotics war against FARC terrorists. Columbia just had a wildly successful raid that killed the FARC's #2 general and captured his laptops.
His laptops had $300 Million from Venezuela's Chavez and the record of FARC's recent massive arms purchases from this Russian bad-guy, who's living a life of child-phuqin decadence in Thailand.
So the Columbians passed that info along to us via our DEA advisors in Bogota, and now the Russia arms sleezebag is in jail.
You and Chavez are the only ones with a problem with that turn of events...
It was under Mobuto Seko’s rule in Zaire that the first known outbreak of Ebola occurred along the Ebola river. Interesting that Seko was a customer of the Merchant of Death Viktor Bout.
When an American aide worker fell ill during the effort to figure out what was causing the outbreak the rest of the aid group wanted to fly him out to South Africa and Seko objected, refusing to have any of his planes fly to an apartheid state. The aid workers managed to arrange for a US military cargo plane instead.
Ebola River is in Congo, not Zaire?!