Victor Bout and Angola Sanctions

The role of transport in the violation of the sanctions against UNITA

United Nations Security Council Report

Final report of the Monitoring Mechanism on Angola Sanctions, paragraphs 111 - 144
Full UN Report:

December 21, 2000

IX. The role of transport in the violation of the sanctions against UNITA

A. Overview

111. This section of the report focuses on the role of transport in sanctions-busting in Angola, a matter which received attention in the report of the Panel of Experts. The individuals, companies, route and landing areas play a vital role in keeping UNITA operational. In fact, transportation and its related logistics could be seen as the lifeline for UNITA. Since it is so important for UNITA, it is vital for the international community not to simply pay lip service to its strategic importance but to take action to disrupt or destroy this logistical network through concerted law enforcement.

112. Over the decades the civil war in Angola has devastated the country’s transport infrastructure. Key installations in the road and rail networks have been heavily bombarded, lines of communication destroyed, large areas of land filled with uncharted minefields and the remaining logistical routes in outlying areas subjected to indiscriminate attacks. This situation left air transport as the main avenue for resupplying UNITA forces, particularly during the period between 1997 and September 1999 when UNITA boasted of large airstrips in places such as Andulo among others. During its investigations, the Mechanism heard reports of airdrops into UNITA territory even under the present changed military circumstances, a situation that once again reveals the strategic importance of air transport to UNITA.

113. Resupply of UNITA through air transport does, however, require aircraft to fly over a number of countries. It requires chartering aircraft, insuring crews, loading and unloading cargo, obtaining customs clearance, as well as ensuring take-off and landing slots in major airports en route. This activity does, by its very essence, leave some form of paper trail which can be used to attempt to reconstruct transactions and routes taken, as well as to identify the roles of those individuals, companies and organizations implicated.

114. In making this reconstruction however, it is important to bear in mind that the planes, pilots, brokers and agents involved in the supply of arms and other embargoed materials operate on the very fringes of legal activity and deliberately circumvent many of the rules that regulate the industry. In this context, and based on the information available to it, the Mechanism is of the view that a number of Air Cess flights mentioned above only touched down on the so-called destinations after delivery of arms to UNITA territory in order to give a semblance of legitimacy. This is corroborated by information given by General Jacinto Bandua, a UNITA defector who reported to the Mechanism that Air Cess flights were known to combine arms with general cargo in order to disguise their missions. It should also be recalled that during this period, the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM) gave reports of Air Cess flights landing in UNITA held territory fairly frequently. It is therefore clear that UNITA is dependent on this activity and the organized networks of brokers, shipping agents and aviation companies who form this lifeline by shifting their operations in pace with the dynamics of the battle field and the ever-changing locations of the UNITA forces.

115. The air transport industry is relatively small and companies operating within it can often be seen as interdependent, in the sense that a pilot/pilot-owner will often sub-contract work if the need or opportunity arises. It therefore goes without saying that in such a small and specialized industry, the majority of the individuals know or at least know of each other, thus creating an informal network.

116. The market is also highly competitive and single aircraft operators can find themselves in a position where taking certain risks could well be one of only a few options available in order to stay afloat economically. Added to the equation is the potentially high rewards that making a few illicit flights can bring.

117. The flag of convenience allows much of the required paperwork and assurances required by any aircraft operator to be circumvented. As will be demonstrated in the present report, whenever Air Cess has been in trouble with the authorities in one country, it has been easy for the airline to relocate to another country overnight without any explanation owing to the fact that a number of countries are ready to provide a flag of convenience with no questions asked. In some instances there are agencies, which advertise that they can, for a fee, register planes with no inspection of the aircraft in the country of registration.

118. There are pilots with military training and combat experience (often from eastern Europe and southern Africa), who, as individuals and entrepreneurs, are prepared to undertake such activities. Individuals such as Johnny Parreira have been identified as pilots who in the past have flown sanctions busting missions in Angola.

119. Landing heavy cargo planes with illicit cargoes in war conditions and breaking international embargoes such as the one on Angola requires more than individual effort. It takes an internationally organized network of individuals, well funded, well connected and well versed in brokering and logistics, with the ability to move illicit cargo around the world without raising the suspicions of the law or with the ability to deal with obstacles. One organization, headed, or at least to all appearances outwardly controlled by an Eastern European, Victor Bout, is such an organization.

B. Profile of Victor Bout

120. Following is a brief profile of Victor Bout, his companies, his activities and some of his associates.

121. Victor Bout born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 1967, is often referred to in law enforcement circles as Victor B. There is a good reason for this, as he is thought to have at least five aliases that are already known of and it is highly likely that there are several more that are not.

122. The South African authorities have indicated that Mr. Bout, who is resident in the United Arab Emirates, has at least five passports, two of which are Russian and one Ukrainian. He is married and his wife Alla also resides with him in the United Arab Emirates. Information from the United States suggests that his wife’s father, “Zuiguin”, at one point held a high position in the KGB, perhaps even as high as a Deputy Chairman.

C. Historical overview of Air Cess

123. The company Air Cess first appeared in 1996. As far as records show, Air Cess, registered in Monrovia, Liberia with Victor Bout as its head, moved into offices in Ostende Airport on 1 December 1996.

124. In fact Air Cess moved into offices that had been vacated by a company called Trans Aviation Network Group (TAN Group), a company that had been founded in March 1995. The company was funded by two individuals each having a 50 per cent stake: Michel-Victor Thomas, believed to be French and living in Marseille, and Victor Bout, resident in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The company’s chief executive officer was a Belgian pilot by the name of Ronald De Smet.

125. At approximately the same time, Mr. De Smet and Mr. Bout co-directed another company called Eastbound BVBA. Precise records for this company have been difficult to find, but it is believed that the company was involved in the export of new and used cars from Western to Eastern Europe.

126. On 31 July 1997 Air Cess moved from Ostende, at approximately the same time as Belgian customs officials stepped up their observations at that airport. At that point in time it is thought that operations were started in the United Arab Emirates, though no exact date is known.

127. On 20 August 1997 Air Cess Swaziland (Pty) Ltd. was formed. The company was also headed by Victor Bout and some of the aircraft that were on the Liberian register were transferred over to the “3D” prefix for Swaziland. Although registered in Swaziland, the actual operational activity was from Pietersburg Airport in South Africa.

128. Shortly after the formation of Air Cess Swaziland (Pty) Ltd., the company joined with a local consortium and formed a new group, Air Pass, in late 1997. It appears that the local carriers had the established routes and well formed contacts in the area, but lacked capacity. Mr. Bout, through his numerous contacts in the ex-Soviet airforce, was immediately able to provide the required capacity and, in return, took advantage of the established routes and contacts in the southern African region.

129. In 1998, Cessavia, another company, was formed, registered in Equatorial Guinea, although it is now listed as Air Cess. The operations base for the company is Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

130. Due to tighter regulations and checks in Swaziland, which showed irregular registration of aircraft and many shortcomings in air-worthiness, Swaziland de-registered Air Cess/Air Pass aircraft. At about the same time, Mr. Bout set up other operations further north in Africa. He obtained Central African Airways, registered in the Central African Republic, but using Sharjah and Ras-al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates as operational bases.

131. At some point in 1998, though it is not clear exactly when, a Kazakhstan company, IRBIS (an air cargo carrier) was formed with an office in Almaty, Kazakhstan. However, the company has no aircraft of its own, but exclusively charters Air Cess aircraft as and when required. It can be considered that IRBIS forms an Eastern European office for Victor Bout.

D. Current overview of Air Cess

132. The majority of Air Cess operations are based in the United Arab Emirates, Sharjah, in particular, but also in Ras-al-Khaimah and Dubai. However, when looking at the company structure on paper, the locations of registration and operation give a much more complex appearance.

133. Air Cess, which until recently was called Cessavia, is registered in Equatorial Guinea, which provides its aircraft with “3C” designated prefixes. The company’s operations office, however, is given as P.O. Box 7837, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Air industry information lists Victor Butt as Director (one of Bout’s many aliases). The Mechanism has contacted the authorities in Equatorial Guinea and the United Arab Emirates for more information on the matter, and the latter has informed the Mechanism that an investigation has been initiated and remains to be completed. No response has been received from Equatorial Guinea.

134. Central African Airlines is registered in the Central African Republic, which provides the aircraft with “TL” prefixes. The majority of the “TL” aircraft have been changed from “3D” (Swaziland), mainly due to the withdrawal of the licences for irregularities in May 1998. Central African Airlines operates from Ras-al-Khaimah (unconfirmed), but lists an operations office in Sharjah (Transavia Travel Agency, P. O. Box 3962, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates).

135. Even though the two companies apparently have different addresses, they share the same telephone and fax numbers. Transavia Travel Cargo, also based in Sharjah, is linked. In fact they all appear to have originated from the Transavia Network (TAN Group) which originated in Ostende, Belgium.

136. Another company apparently involved in the Air Cess network is the Liberian registered air company Santa Cruz Imperial, a subsidiary of the Flying Dolphin, owned by United Arab Emirates. Although it is registered in Liberia, it lists its operations office as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, though the actual base for the aircraft seems to be in Sharjah. In the past, one of its aircraft, El-Ale, was noted as supplying UNITA forces.

137. Air Cess also provides its aircraft for use by other operators. Victor Bout also has another company, Air Cess Incorporated registered in Miami, United States, in December 1998, which, although it is essentially a paper-based company, does facilitate the ‘N’ registered number given to North American aircraft.

E. Victor Bout’s organization

138. For an organization to operate effectively, it requires an extensive network of contacts and specialists. The section below, although not exhaustive, demonstrates that Victor Bout has acquired such a capability.


139. Richard Ammar Chichakli, born in 1959, has been an employee/associate of Victor Bout’s for several years. He is a specialist and who has been placed in an ideal position. He is a certified public accountant and a certified fraud examiner with more than 12 years of experience, in addition to his military experience in aviation and air traffic control.

140. Over the last decade, Mr. Chichakli has held senior positions in companies owned by Victor Bout. The chart below illustrates these connections. As chief financial manager, his responsibilities include directing the accounting, financial and reporting activities, including public reporting, auditing and overall responsibility for the financial systems. Indeed this appears to be an important position. What is more, Mr. Chichakli also holds the position of commercial manager at the free zone in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. There, he is responsible for much of the liaison and commercial site activity, again playing a key role, especially as virtually all of Victor Bout’s companies, regardless of where they are registered, operate out of the United Arab Emirates, and from Sharjah in particular.


141. Victor Bout is believed to associate with a certain Oleg Orlov, an Eastern European (possibly Russian, Ukrainian or Armenian, his identity has not been confirmed). Mr. Orlov, who is thought to have a company in Dubai called EMM Arab Systems, is also thought to have individuals in his employment who carry/load weapons from the factories to the airport at Burgas.


142. It is not particularly difficult, especially for those who know the system, to obtain or change aircraft registration to certain “less scrupulous” countries. Victor Bout is an associate of a certain Michael Harridine, who is not only able to provide such services, but openly and actively advertises the fact. From 1997 to 1998, Harridine, along with Victor Bout’s partner, a Belgian pilot by the name of Ronald De Smet, held the authority to conduct business in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Liberian Aircraft Register.

143. Harridine, through a United Kingdom company based in Kent, “Aircraft Registration Bureau”, offers a full range of services on the Equatorial Guinea Civil Aircraft Register, which includes: creation of a company name; air operators certificate (no restrictions); full aircraft/company documentation; ferry permits and crew validations. Air Cess, which Bout operates out of Sharjah, is in fact registered in Equatorial Guinea.

F. Registration of aircraft

144. “Flags of convenience” allow much of the required paperwork and assurances required by an aircraft operator to be circumvented. Should there be any problem however, as was experienced by Air Pass when a new regulator was brought in to oversee the Swaziland register in 1997, de-registration has little effect as it takes only a matter of hours to take the whole company and register it in another country that will not investigate its activities as closely. This does not even cause a logistical problem, as the aircraft do not need to be physically present.

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Created: 19-5-02
Last updated 3.7.2005