Emerging Alliance, Part IV

(Credit: http://www.opinion-maker.org/2010/11/us-bouts-victor-bout/)

Criminalized States and Terrorist-Criminal Pipelines

By Douglas Farah

Senior Fellow, Financial Investigations and Transparency

International Assessment and Strategy Center

Adjunct Fellow, Americas Program, CSIS


07/13/2011 Viktor Bout: A Case Study in the New World Order

07/05/2011 – Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military intelligence official, became one of the world’s premier gray market weapons merchants, able to arm multiple sides of several conflicts in Africa, as well as both the Taliban and Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. But of particular interest here is his relationship with Taylor and how he made that connection, and the different, interlocking networks that made that relationship possible.

(Credit: http://www.opinion-maker.org/2010/11/us-bouts-victor-bout/)
(Credit: http://www.opinion-maker.org/2010/11/us-bouts-victor-bout/)

Bout made his mark by building an unrivaled air fleet and arms procurement operation that could deliver not only huge amounts of weapons but also sophisticated weapons systems and combat helicopters, to armed groups. From the mid-1990s until his arrest in Thailand in 2008, Bout armed groups in Africa, Afghanistan, Colombia, and elsewhere.[1]

Bout’s relationship to Taylor and the West African conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone sheds light on how these networks operate and connect with criminal states, and the symbiotic relationships that develop.

Sanjivan Ruprah, a Kenyan citizen of Indian descent who emerged as a key influence broker in several of Africa’s conflicts, introduced Bout into Taylor’s inner circle, a move that fundamentally altered the supply of weapons both to Liberia and to the RUF in Sierra Leone, Taylor’s vicious proxy army controlling important diamond fields. One of the favors Ruprah and Taylor offered Bout was the chance to register several dozen of his rogue aircraft in Liberia.

Ruprah had taken advantage of operating in a criminal state and used his access to Taylor to be named the Liberian government’s  Global Civil Aviation Agent Worldwide in order to further Bout’s goals. This position gave Ruprah access to the aircraft and possible control of it.[2] “I was asked by an associate of Viktor’s to get involved in the Aviation registry of Liberia as both Viktor and him wanted to restructure the same and they felt there could be financial gain from the same,” he has stated.[3]

Bout was seeking to use the Liberian registry to hide his aircraft because the registry, in reality run from Kent, England, allowed aircraft owners to obtain online an internationally valid Air Worthiness Certificate without having the aircraft inspected and without disclosing the names of the owners.[4]

Through his access to aircraft whose ownership he could hide through a shell game of shifting registries, as well as to the arsenals of the former Soviet bloc, Bout was able to acquire and transport a much-desired commodity – weapons — to service clients across Africa, Afghanistan, Colombia and elsewhere. The weapons — including tens of thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades, tens of millions of rounds of ammunition, anti-aircraft guns, land mines and possibly surface-to-air missiles – were often exchanged directly for another commodity, primarily diamonds, but also coltan and other minerals.

Bout mastered the art of leveraging the advantages offered by criminal states, registering his aircraft in Liberia and Equatorial Guinea, purchasing End User Certificates from Togo and other nations, and buying protection across the continent. For entrée into the circles of warlords, presidents and insurgent leaders, Bout relied on a group of political fixers like Ruprah.

The exchange of commodities such as diamonds for weapons moved illicitly in support of non-state actors was largely not punishable because, while the activities violated United Nations sanctions, they were not specifically illegal in any particular jurisdiction.  This vast legal loophole still remains intact.[5]


[1] Details of Bout’s global operations can be found at: Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible,” John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2007. In November 2010 Bout was extradited to the United States to stand trial for allegedly planning to sell weapons to a designated terrorist organization. See: Chris McGreal, “Viktor Bout, Suspected Russian Arms Dealer, Extradited to New York,” The Guardian, November 16, 2010, accessed on December 28, 2010 at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/16/russian-arms-dealer-extradited

[2] UNSC S/2000/1195, op. cit.

[3] Ruprah email to author for the book Merchant of Death, op cit., p. 159.

[4] Farah and Braun, op cit. p. 159; and UNSC S/2000/1225 paras. 142-143.

[5] Farah and Braun, op cit.