Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

Infobox Person

image_size = 150px
name = Виктор Бут Viktor Bout
caption =
birth_date = birth date and age|df=yes|1967|1|13
birth_place = Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union
death_date =
death_place =
other_names = "Merchant of Death" Viktor Butt
known_for = Illegal arms trafficking
occupation = former KGB major
nationality = Russian

Viktor Anatolyevich Bout ( _ru. Виктор Анатольевич Бут) (born 13 January 1967 near Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, Soviet Union) is a Soviet former GRU major and arms dealer. [ The HUMINT Offensive from Putin's Chekist State] Anderson, Julie (2007), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 20:2, page 309. ] Bout is suspected of supplying arms to the Taliban and Al Qaeda and of supplying huge arms shipments into various civil wars in Africa with his own private air fleet. [ [ 'Lord of war' arms trafficker arrested] , The Guardian, March 7, 2008.] Nicknamed the "Merchant of Death", [ [ 'Merchant of Death' still on the run] BBC News Africa ] he is the subject of a book by that name written by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun. [ Merchant of Death] - book's official website ISBN 978-0470048665] According to Lee S. Wolosky, he is "the most powerful player in the trafficking of illegal arms."

Recent reports suggest he is also operating in Iraq using front companies and Cargo Airlifts (Airline Transport, Air West, Aerocom and TransAvia Export). Bout came to officials' attention in the 1990s, when he was accused of supplying arms to rebels in West Africa after a cease-fire agreement had been brokered. At that time he owned or was using many airlines, including Air Cess and Centrafrican, which were later forced to shut down by authorities. He also supplied arms to the deposed regime of Charles Taylor in Liberia.

In May 2006, when 200,000 AK-47 assault rifles allegedly went missing in transit from Bosnia to Iraq, one of Bout's airlines was the carrier. [ [,Have 200,000 AK47s fallen into the hands of Iraq Terrorists?] Daily Mirror, 10 May 2006] Allegedly Bout's business partner was Hasan Čengić, the former Deputy Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to "Slobodna Bosna" and Douglas Farah. [NATO-SFOR (quoting "Slobodna Bosna"), [ Main News Summary] , 11 June 2004, accessed 28 November 2007] [Douglas Farah, [ While Lebanon boils, watch Bosnia] , July 19, 2006, accessed 28 November 2007] Bout was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand on 6 March 2008, five days after the Colombian government found the computer of FARC's (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) leader alias "Raul Reyes" in a long term camp site in Ecuador. [cite news |author=The Associated Press |authorlink=Associated Press |title=Thais May Charge Reputed Arms Dealer
work=New York Times

Yuri Orlov, Nicolas Cage's character in the 2005 film "Lord of War " is said [ [ Viktor Bout: in the Movies...] ] [Bertil Lintner: [ "A necessary evil"] ] [William Norman Grigg: [ "Permanent War, Perpetual Profiteering"] ] to be partially based on Bout.


Viktor Bout is a former Soviet military major who retired from the service in 1993 and became an international arms dealer [ The HUMINT Offensive from Putin's Chekist State] Anderson, Julie (2007), International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 20:2, 258 - 316. ] . Often referred to as the Embargo Buster, Bout made a significant amount of money selling illegal arms to countries that the UN has placed arms embargoes on. He first appeared on the radar when he sold weapons to African nations in civil wars under such embargoes.

Little is known about Bout before his military career, other than he was born to two Russian parents in 1967. According to his official passport, he was born in Dushanbe, USSR, which is now Tajikistan. However, Bout stated in a 2002 radio interview that he was born near what is now Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and a 2001 South African intelligence file listed him as Ukrainian in origin [ [ Foreign Policy: The Merchant of Death] ] [ Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun: "The Merchant of death"] ] . After military training, he worked at a Soviet military base in Vitebsk as a navigator. His duties expanded, eventually including the training of commando troops of the Soviet Air Force. [ The criminal stories of the good soldier Bout] - Knack no. 20, 16 may 2001, by Dirk Draulans] In 1991 Bout graduated from the prestigious Soviet Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. He is said to be fluent in 6 languages, including Russian, Uzbek, English, French and Portuguese. After this he became a translator for the Soviet Army in Angola. In the same year the military base he was serving at was dissolved due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Bout and his colleagues found themselves highly trained, but without jobs. He then started the Transavia Export Cargo company, which aided Belgian soldiers in Somalia in 1993. Russian sources have claimed that, in return for a cut of the profits, Bout was staked three Antonovs by the GRU of which he may well have been a member, given his association with the GRU school of foreign languages. Another of his early clients was the Islamic State of Afghanistan (later it was known by the name the Northern Alliance). Between 1992 and 1995, Bout made an alleged $50 million from supplying several Afghan groups. [ PBS Frontline story on Sierra Leone] by Matthew Brunwasser] This helped him grow his empire.

In 1995 Bout established the Trans Aviation Network Group in the Belgian city of Oostende. The company delivered weapons to the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but this relationship came to an end when the Taliban drove that government out of Kabul and reduced its control to just a few northern provinces. In May 1995 one of his shipments for the Afghan government was intercepted by the Taliban. In August 1995 the crew of this shipment escaped (or was released) from Afghanistan and soon after that Bout had a new customer: the Taliban. [ - A merchant of death or a decent businessman?] from an article in Moscow Komsomolskaya Pravda 27 Feb 2002 pg.4]

During this period Bout lived in Belgium, even purchasing a mansion and several luxury cars, as well as an apartment in Moscow. But in 1997 newspaper reports revealed his shady business, prompting Belgian authorities to investigate. [ Ostend Airport arms' connection] - from, 24/03/2001] Bout moved to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates; here he founded his United Arab Emirates company, which would become his main base of operations. Bout is alleged to have used Sharjah International Airport as well as airfields in the neighboring emirates of Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah as transshipment points for arms traveling to Africa and Afghanistan as late as 2002 ["Emirates Looked Other Way While Al Qaeda Funds Flowed," Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2002] . In 1995 he founded another company that would become synonymous with his dealings. Air Cess was based in Equatorial Guinea and registered in Liberia and was Bout's main way of supplying arms to African conflicts. Bout seems to have sold to any group that could pay him for his weapons. US and UN officials say that Bout smuggled thousands upon thousands of semi-automatic rifles, grenade launchers, other weapons and ammunition to for African conflicts in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland and Uganda. [ UN Report: Monitoring Mechanism on Angola Sanctions] - paragraphs 111 - 144, December 21, 2000]

Some weapons smuggled into Africa came via Bulgaria, which Bout visited frequently between 1995 and 2000. From July 1997 to September 1998 Bout reportedly smuggled an estimated $14 million worth of weapons into Africa. In 2000 Bout also delivered helicopters, anti-aircraft guns and armored vehicles to Liberia. Bout also established Air Cess in Miami, Florida, in 1997. The company operated until September 2001, when it was dissolved. [ Viktor Bout - From International Outlaw to Valued Partner] ]

Viktor has essentially done business with anyone irrespective of ideology, often contracted on both sides of a war. As well as some of the more controversial customers such as the Taliban or Charles G. Taylor, the UN and the US have also paid for his services. [ [ Douglas Farah on The Daily Show] ]

His nicknames, namely the 'Embargo Buster' and 'Merchant of Death', were coined by former British Foreign Office minister, Peter Hain. Upon reading the 2003 UN report on Bout's activities, Hain said: "Bout is the leading merchant of death who is the principal conduit for planes and supply routes that take arms, including heavy military equipment, from east Europe, principally Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine, to Liberia and Angola. The UN has exposed Bout as the center of a spider's web of shady arms dealers, diamond brokers, and other operatives, sustaining the wars."

Fugitive status

Viktor Bout only became a high priority for international authorities when his African arms dealings became very prominent. His criminal profile in the public eye reached a high-water mark with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Bout supplied weapons to the Taliban, which has close ties to al-Qaeda. This placed Bout on a top-priority list for U.S. officials.

Years of dealing in arms, however, has allowed Bout to build a large network of business and political contacts. The United Arab Emirates eventually caved in to co-operate on capturing Bout. Bout's business dealings were careful and complicated, making it hard for authorities to assess, for instance, which airplanes are his and which are operating illegally. Constantly moving the locations of himself and his companies, not to mention frequent re-registering—often illegally—his aircraft has made it hard for US and Interpol authorities to build a case against him. He was finally charged prior to 9/11. Before then he had lived openly in Moscow, as his warrant for arrest by Interpol had not been taken seriously by Russia.In 2002 both Belgium and Interpol issued warrants for his arrest. When the heat was turned up, Bout fled to Russia, where he remained protected by the Russian Constitution which does not allow extradition of citizens to foreign nations. The UN has banned Bout from international travel and frozen his foreign bank accounts.

Bout is said to have at least five passports and several aliases. He resided in Russia with his wife, Alla, and her father, "Zuiguin." According to a [ UN report] , "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."


Viktor Bout was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand on 6 March 2008, during a sting operation set up by US DEA agents in Thailand [ [ Revealed: trap that lured the merchant of death] "The Observer"] . Thai police acted on an arrest warrant issued by the US government, which accuses Bout of supplying weapons to Colombia's FARC rebels. He is currently awaiting deportation proceedings. Sources in Colombia and Spain claim that his arrest was made possible thanks to the information available from computers seized during the military operation that ended with the death of Raul Reyes (see 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis). [ [ Noticias24 :: Actualidad » Cae el mayor traficante de armas del mundo, gracias a los datos del PC de Reyes] ] '

Further information about the DEA operation to trap Viktor Bout and his co-defendant Andrew Smulian can be found in this [ Formal complaint] .

Extradition trial

On September 22, 2008 A Bangkok Criminal Court began US extradition trials for Bout. His Thai attorney Preecha Prasertsak moved to dismiss the 4 terrorism conspiracy counts: "My client is innocent. I have submitted the petition that Viktor Bout has been detained illegally, on fabricated American accusations". The Judge, however, set another date for its hearing. A Thai foreign ministry official testified, and a US embassy official and Thai police officer will testify Monday, while the last prosecution witness and defense witnesses will appear in Court on October 10. The Russian lower house parliament State Duma, raised concerns: "Political motives, attempts to link this issue with the fight against international terrorism and thus damage the interests and reputation of Russia, are present in Bout's case. It is necessary to intensity efforts aimed at securing the rights of Russian citizen Viktor Bout, prevention of his illegal prosecution and return to his home country, as well as at curbing attempts to use this case against Russia." [ [, Alleged arms dealer Bout in Thai court for US extradition case] ] [ [, Arms dealer Viktor Bout faces Thai court for extradition to US] ] [ [, Russian 'arms dealer' trial opens] ]

In the media

Viktor Bout has always professed his innocence, saying he is just a businessman. He was interviewed by Peter Landesman for the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" (24 October 2003). [ [ Viktor Bout's File] ] He also appeared on Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, saying "I have never supplied anything to or had contacts with the Taliban or al-Qaida."

In 2005 the movie "Lord of War", starring Nicolas Cage as the character Yuri Orlov, was released. This movie is partially based on Bout.

In 2007 Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah published a book about Bout entitled "Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible".

Bout is also mentioned in Misha Glenny's book, "McMafia" (2008)

Arms dealings

Some of Bout's alleged arms customers include:

* Northern Alliance (Afghanistan)
* Taliban (Afghanistan)
* Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)
* UNITA (Angola)
* RUF (Sierra Leone)
* Charles Taylor (Liberia)
* FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)
* LTTE (Sri Lanka) [ [ Tamil Tiger Links with Islamist Terrorist Groups, Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Interdisciplinary Center] ]


See also

* End user certificate

External links

* [ Official website of Victor Bout (under construction)]
* [ Extensive collection of information about Viktor Bout's airlines and operations by Ruud Leeuw]
* [ Extensive information of Viktor Bout's airlines, and his activities in Ostend during '95-'97]
* [ Arms brokers] at the IANSA website
* [ The Embargo Buster: Fueling Bloody Civil Wars]
* [ Foreign Policy: The Merchant of Death]
* [ Arms and the Man] - NYTimes Magazine Profile of Viktor Bout
* [ The World's Most Notorious Arms Trafficker (Audio/32min)] : Leonard Lopate talks to the authors of The Merchant of Death on WNYC
* [ Podcast biography at Military History Podcast]
* [ Interview with Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, authors of a book about Viktor Bout] – National Public Radio
* [ Inside the World’s Largest Illegal Arms Network] Podcast of another interview with Stephen Braun – World Affairs Council of Northern California
* [ Conflicts in Africa - Millions suffered, a few became millionaires one of them: Viktor Bout]
* [ an interview of author Douglas Farrah on the Daily Show about Viktor Bout]
* [ Brian Wood and Johan Peleman 1999, "The Arms Fixers", online version of report published by Basic, NISAT and PRIO]
* [ The bad and good about Victor Bout: ‘Merchant of Death’ detained in Thailand]
* [ Interview with Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun about Victor Bout on the NPR program "Fresh Air]
* [ "The deadly convenience of Victor Bout"] by [ ISN Zurich] , see also [ part two of the story]
* [ BBC, Profile]

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