New York -- For the third year now the American special services have been hunting the man who in Washington's opinion heads the world's largest illegal arms trading
network. The Washington Post reports that the "king" of the criminal arms trade is former Soviet Air Force Officer Victor Bout. Investigators involved in his case call their quarry a "lone wolf" because of his fondness for doing without middlemen when concluding illegal arms deals.
The Americans believe that Bout is supplying his lethal freight to all parts of the world -- from trouble spots in Africa to the Philippines, Libya, and Afghanistan, where until recently the Taliban and members of the al-Qa'ida terroristorganization were his clients.
The Washington Post believes that the materials gathered by the American intelligence service in Afghanistan give grounds for believing that Bout continued to supply weapons to the Taliban movement right through 11 September -- the day of the tragic acts of terrorism in the United States.
"Victor Bout was a very major figure in the field of illegal arms deliveries and was an abettor to criminal and terrorist organizations," Lee Wolosky, a former National Security Council official who led the American special services' efforts to shut down Bout's operations during the Clinton Administration, believes.
They recently achieved a major success in resolving that task. A former Bout assistant -- Kenyan Sanjivan Ruprah -- was arrested in Belgium. He has already begun to give evidence of how the "underground empire" of the arms trade functioned.
Recipients frequently paid in illegally mined diamonds, which were transferred to Antwerp for cutting and subsequent sale.
Until recently the headquarters of Victor Bout's organization were in the United Arab Emirates. The United States has frequently demanded that this country's
authorities extradite the arms dealer but the authorities replied they saw nothing criminal in his activity.
According to the Washington Post Bout has "worked" with the Taliban since 1996. He organized charter flights from Dubai to Kandahar, somehow contriving to get UN permission for these flights, bypassing the international embargo in force against air communications with Afghanistan. The special services are inclined to believe the aircraft were carrying weapons.
Since George Bush came to the White House the hunt for Bout has been less fierce than it had been under Clinton. But the 11 September events have forced the Americans to resume the intensive search for him. But Victor Bout's trail in the United Arab Emirates has already grown cold.
Where else has Bout been?
According to Interpol he has sounded out the possibility of buying weapons from army depots in Rostov, St. Petersburg, and Novorossiysk and also from a number of defense enterprises in Kovrov and Izhevsk. The businessman promised to take upon himself the "problems of exporting them."
In general there are legends about Bout's potential.
In particular about how in 1992 it was he who allegedly used a front firm to strike a deal connected with the delivery of Russian armored vehicles and ammunition to Britain -- virtually with the blessing of the country's leaders.
According to information Bout also made frequent trips to the Dniester Region, where Europe's largest depot of mines, bombs, and shells is now located, incidentally.
From Komsomolskaya Pravda Files; Who Are You, Mr Bout?
Viktor Anatolyevich Bout is a Russian and was born in Dushanbe in 1967. He graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. Until 1991 he served as an interpreter in the now disbanded military transport aviation regiment in Vitsebsk (Belarus). He is a senior lieutenant. The Western press also says he is a former KGB officer. After the collapse of the USSR in 1992 he went abroad.
According to Interpol he holds seven international passports in the names of Aminov, Butt, Butov, Badd, Bulakin, and others. He owns a whole network of enterprises -- from an aircraft repair company in the United Arab Emirates to a charter company in Miami (United States). Bout is one of the owners of the AIR CESS LIBERIA airline (registered in Equatorial Guinea with headquarters in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates) and owns one of the largest private aircraft fleets in the world: He has about 60 Soviet-produced aircraft, mainly Antonov freight aircraft.
Initially Bout had a house in Ostend [Belgium) bought in 1995 for 275,000 pounds sterling and an office at the local airport, which he turned into a center for arms dealing. But within two years, under surveillance from the special services, he left Belgium. Today Bout owns a house in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, where so many Russian-speaking pilots are living that local inhabitants have dubbed it the Kremlin, while he also owns real estate in Uganda and a luxury villa in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates).
According to UN information Bout specializes in deliveries of weapons to the trouble spots of Africa and Asia -- Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo, Liberia, the Philippines, and Afghanistan -- and has struck at least 38 deals involving arms sales to African countries bypassing UN sanctions. The recent delivery from Bulgarian plants to UNITA
militants is on its own assessed at $15 million.
For this money the Angolans received air defense weapons, artillery pieces, antitank guided missiles, surface-to-air missile systems, and mortar charges (20,000 mines).
It is not out of the question that Bout is linked to the son of France's late president, Jean-Christophe Mitterand (nicknamed Monsieur Afrique), who in 2000 was arrested for acting as middleman in illegal arms deliveries to Africa.
Bout is called the world's most influential arms dealer. It is believed that in addition to Bulgaria he buys his goods in several other European countries and also in Ukraine. To understand what this means, according to the parliamentary commission recently created in Ukraine, from 1992 through 1998 weapons worth $32 billion were stolen from this country's army depots -- that is one third of all Ukrainian arms!
In the estimation of Britain's MI6 Bout delivered weapons worth $30 million to the Taliban. According to Rawan Farhadi, Afghanistan's permanent UN representative, together with conventional weapons the deliveries included potassium cyanide and other toxic chemical which Bout had bought in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine. (According to Western press reports, the chemicals delivered to the al-Qa'ida militants by Bout's aircraft came from Ukraine).
Britain's MI6 says that Bout's activity in Afghanistan began with arms deliveries to the Northern Alliance. But after one of his aircraft was detained by the Taliban Bout agreed to change clients and from 1996 his aircraft made up to four flights a day to territories controlled by the Taliban.
Bout avoids interviews and recently he has been photographed only once: In May 2001 two Belgian journalists accidentally came across him in rebel Congo. At the time he said that the reports about his arms dealing did not correspond to reality. According to Western press reports Bout's accountant, named Chichakli, who works at a respectable bank in Dallas (United States) is a former US Army intelligence officer. He recently remarked: "If Victor is such a monster why don't they arrest him? Because his freight consists of mining equipment, blankets, and frozen chickens, and not weapons at all."
It is notable that Bout is not indifferent to the environmental movement. They say that he once tried to persuade Congolese rebels whom he himself had armed to
create a nature reserve in the jungles there.
Bout knows French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Xhosa, and Zulu. He has a very high IQ -- over 170. Those who have met him describe him as a courteous and lively businessman. His wife is, according to some reports, the daughter of a famous violinist, according to others the daughter of a high-ranking KGB officer. They have two children.
Telephone Call to United Arab Emirates; He Is Living Completely Legally Here is what we were told over the telephone by ITAR-TASS Dubai correspondent Viktor Lebedev:
"Victor Bout and his wife Alla left Sharjah six months ago. Where they went is not known. Bout's firm was registered first in Sharjah but later in the neighboring emirate of Ajman.
"His wife (she was born in Leningrad, incidentally) had a fashion shop here which was closed down before they left. There are reports that in the past decade they spent some time in an African country.
"They say that Victor's brother Sergey stayed behind in Sharjah. But when I tried to telephone his firm I was told that the number already belonged to another firm, Airbus Transportation, registered in Kazakhstan, which has nothing to do with Bout.
"Incidentally, if you remember the story of the Russian crew who were captured by the Taliban in Kandahar in 1995 and later managed to escape home, it is said that the flight was also connected to Bout's business.
"Yesterday Sergey Bout, Victor Bout's brother, telephoned the ITAR-TASS correspondents' center in Dubai himself. With regard to the articles about his brother's activity he said: 'It is absolutely crazy. Surely there is no way you can print stuff like that. That is going too far. Someone is looking for a scapegoat.'
"'But who is interested in printing these fabrications?'
"'First of all the Americans and also those whom they have bought. Everything that is written on the subject is an attack against Russia, marking the start of a new cold war.'
"'And where is your brother now?'
"'I shall not go into details. I shall merely say that Victor is living completely legally.'" [Lebedev report ends]
From interview with Russian traveler Vladislav Ketov, who is making the first land tour in history along the shoreline of the continents, given to "Russkiy Zhurnal"
[Russian Journal] (San Francisco):
"Where does the money for your travelling come from?"
"For the past three years I have had a sponsor, the Air Cess air freight company. It flies mainly in the Near East. When I was in the United Arab Emirates I went to their office, we had a talk about this and that. Victor Anatolyevich Bout, their general manager, also asked who was funding my travelling. No one, I said. I told him how I earn money by drawing when I stop over (I am an artist, after all!) and by any other work god sends.
'How has a project on that scale failed to find support in Russia?!' Victor Anatolyevich said angrily, and he agreed to sponsor my journey."
[Ketov interview ends]
Officially The Russian Internal Affairs Ministry told us that they are checking information about businessman Victor Bout's involvement in supplying arms to the al-Qa'ida terrorist organization. The Russian Federal Security Service gave us a similar answer.
Komsomolskaya Pravda's investigation will be continued in the next few issues. We ask everyone who knew Victor Bout and served or worked with him to telephone the editorial office on (095) 257-5040. We will try to find out together who Bout is -- a merchant of death or a decent businessman, which is what he considers himself to be.
Back to Victor Bout's file