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During the early 2000s, Viktor Bout was involved in a number of companies that were engaged in smuggling weapons into the US. In addition to his role as a Russian arms dealer, Bout was also a translator for the Soviet military. As a result of his activities, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Known as the “Merchant of Death”, Viktor Bout is an international arms smuggler who operated in many countries. He allegedly sold weapons to rebel groups in war-torn areas. He also aided the US in transporting equipment to Afghanistan.
Viktor Bout was born in 1967 in Tajikistan, a part of the Soviet Union. His parents were a bookkeeper and auto mechanic. As a teenager, Bout played volleyball and explored the military. He later studied Portuguese at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. He conscripted into the Soviet Army at age 18. He served two years in an infantry brigade in western Ukraine.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, large quantities of military weapons appeared on the black market. After a few years, Bout started his air freight business. He purchased four Antonov-8 cargo planes. These aircraft were powerful enough to carry heavy weapons in difficult terrain. He then launched a cargo airline, Air Cess. He used these planes to transport goods to conflict zones around the world. He also facilitated airlifts for the United Nations.
Bout’s companies provided weapons to both sides of bloody conflicts. He reportedly armed both UNITA and Angola’s government. He was also involved in the supply of weapons to the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia. His services were also rumored to have been used by the US and the UK to transport shipments into dangerous areas of Iraq.
The American government attempted to prevent the UN from freezing Bout’s assets. However, the Russian government allegedly protected him for years. He has been convicted of a number of crimes, including supplying weapons to the Taliban. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
Extradition to the U.S.
Despite intense protests from the Russian government, Viktor Bout has been extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges. His trial is expected to take place in the Southern District of New York.
The US claims that Bout is one of the world’s most prolific illicit arms dealers. He has been accused of shipping military grade weapons to conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. The Justice Department has also cited him as a money launderer. The former Soviet military officer is dubbed the “Merchant of Death.”
The extradition process took two years. A Thai court of first instance rejected Washington’s request to extradite Bout in 2009. A higher court overturned that decision in August. The Thai court then had to determine whether it was legal to extradite the alleged weapons merchant to the U.S. Specifically, the court had to consider whether there was sufficient evidence to support a detention order, and whether the crime is extraditable.
A federal jury found Bout guilty of all four counts, including conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, money laundering, and conspiracy to sell weapons to a terrorist organization. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
The United States and the Thai government were involved in a sting operation in late 2007 that led to the arrest of Bout. In the sting, DEA agents posed as members of the Colombian FARC, the Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group that is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
During the sting, the DEA used three confidential sources to make their case. Bout was a known source of AK-47 rifles, C-4 plastic explosives, surface-to-air missile systems, ultralight aircraft, and other weapons. He sold the weaponry to the Colombian FARC, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
Career as a freight-shipper
During the Iraq war, Viktor Bout was in a position to capitalize on the chaos and provided his company with a plethora of military aircraft to support his massive cargo enterprise. His company operated in Sudan, Sierra Leone and the Philippines. He was also responsible for airlifting Belgian peacekeepers into Somalia, among other accomplishments. He even set up the world’s largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft.
However, a close examination of the company’s activities finds that the bulk of its activity focuses on a single destination. The company’s biggest revenue sources are the same Middle Eastern countries where Bout began his career. In fact, the company’s headquarters are located in the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sharjah. The region has practically no laws and a thriving caravansary culture. In this quaint locale, Bout managed to find a place to call home, where he could flex his entrepreneurial muscles. The resulting enterprise has earned him a cult following in the business community.
In fact, according to the Department of Defense’s Office of Inspector General, Bout’s company logged the most cargo shipments of any single-country cargo operator during the war. He was also able to boast the distinction of being the first to provide an airlift to a combat zone – the largest influx of humanitarian cargo in the country’s history. Moreover, the company has also been implicated in the infamous airlift of a slain soldier to safety.
Despite the shady nature of his business ventures, Bout has garnered the attention of both the media and the military. In fact, the government’s most high-profile spokesman has weighed in with a series of congratulatory letters.
Armed both sides in Angola’s civil war
During the Cold War, Angola’s wealth of natural resources and strategic location in southern Africa made it a sought-after prize. This created a proxy conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. It also exacerbated political divisions between Angolan parties.
The first Angolan civil war lasted almost two decades. It began in 1975 when Portugal ceased to be the colonial master of Angola. The country was subsequently governed by Agostinho Neto’s Marxist-oriented MPLA and supported by Cuba and the USSR.
Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA was backed by South Africa. Savimbi was encouraged to go to war by the US. The resulting conflict was a well-funded proxy battle between rich nations. It also illustrated the needless nature of the Cold War.
The second Angolan civil war lasted into the early 1990s. UNITA was able to take control of two-thirds of the country. This allowed it to hold a defensive position in the south. However, it increased the cost of the war to the MPLA by intensifying attacks in the north.
The battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 demonstrated that the need for a superpower showdown in Angola was no longer necessary. The MPLA and Cuban forces were able to decisively defeat the South African and UNITA armies.
In the following years, Angola’s economy suffered major damage. It had high levels of unemployment and youth poverty. It was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It also had a large refugee crisis. The war ravaged the economy of the country. Angola’s cash reserves were depleted.
The second Angolan civil war was followed by a ceasefire. The Bicesse Accords called for an immediate end to hostilities and for new national elections. The Accords were mediated by Portugal with assistance from the United States and Russia. The Accords failed to implement.
Sentenced to 25 years in prison
Despite being sentenced to 25 years in prison, Viktor Bout continues to deny any involvement in any terrorism. He insists his case is simply a politically motivated sting operation. In an interview with the New Yorker, Bout said he was not a spy and has never had any reason to believe he would have committed any crimes.
The case against Bout traces back to the early 1990s, when the United Nations began investigating his activities. At the time, Bout was involved in dealing arms with violent regimes in Africa.
In 2010, Bout was extradited to the US from Thailand after a long legal battle. He was found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and a conspiracy to kill Americans. A federal jury found him guilty in 2011. The case was based on covertly recorded wiretaps and a government case.
The case was also considered as a human rights issue. The United States has claimed that Bout has been involved in trafficking weapons to conflict zones in South America, Middle East, and Africa. The FBI has accused him of supplying weapons to Colombian guerrilla groups and dictators in Africa.
In 2011, a jury found him guilty on all counts. The jury convicted him on two counts of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiracy to sell anti-aircraft missiles. He was also convicted of conspiring to kill American officers and employees.
A federal judge in Illinois convicted Bout of conspiring to acquire a missile system that is capable of destroying aircraft. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison on count one and 25 years on counts two and three. His sentence will run concurrently with the 25 year prison term.