Viktor Bout Arrested

Curious. The Thais just arrested the noted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout.

For years, Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has made millions of dollars allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to warlords and militants. Officials believe many of his activities may be illegal, and on Thursday, Thai police announced his arrest.

Bout, 41, has made his deliveries to Africa, Asia and the Mideast, using obsolete or surplus Soviet-era cargo planes.


According to U.S. officials, Bout — a former Soviet air force officer who speaks multiple languages — has what is reputed to be the largest private fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft in the world.

Bout acquired the planes shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Department of Treasury said in 2005.

At that time, the U.S. Treasury announced it was freezing the assets of Bout and his associates who are all tied to former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor is currently on trial at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.

Intelligence officials said he shipped large quantities of small arms to civil wars across Africa and Asia, often taking diamonds in payment from West African fighters.

I say, "curious," because I doubt this could have happened without US approval–as the promise of an "announcement" in NY later today suggests.

A formal announcement on his arrest is expected later in the day in New York.

And it appears that actual warrant came from our DEA–in connection with Columbia’s FARC.

Bout, the target of an international arrest warrant and U.S. sanctions, was picked up at a Bangkok hotel after he entered Thailand on February 29. Police were searching for an associate.

Bout was attempting "to procure weapons for Colombia’s FARC rebels", the Thai police said in an arrest report.

Which suggests it ties in some way to the cross-border raid the Colombians staged in Ecuador, for which the US is alleged to have provided intelligence. The Colombians nabbed a laptop from the scene of the Reyes assassination–though already there are disputes about what kind of intelligence the laptop included. This may mean the Colombian/Venezuelan conflict will get bigger before it is resolved.

You’ll see long lists of Bout’s customers: Charles Taylor, the Taliban, Ugandan rebels. But what today’s coverage likely won’t reveal is that the US appears to have used Bout’s services in Iraq.

Now, Viktor Bout seems to be back at work in Iraq. According to several sources, his planes, flying under the name of an airline company, British Gulf, likely to disappear as fast as it was created, are assuring "transport of materiel" for the American army. The company’s advantage, one specialist in arms trafficking reveals, relates to the nature of the Russian merchant’s crews and planes: "They’re accustomed to land in any kind of war zone without having a fit. And if one of their planes is shot down, there’s no risk of American pilots’ bodies being dragged through the streets."

I guess we no longer have use of Bout’s services.

77 replies
  1. klynn says:

    I’ve been hoping the Columbia/Ecuador/Venezuala conflict would go away.

    My nephew is there studying…

    This is not good news

  2. MeteorBlades says:

    Am I a conspiracy nut to suggest that Viktor’s arrest might, just might, have as much to do with him and his “obsolete” fleet of Soviet cargo aircraft being a rival for “legitimate” arms dealers, including those with headquarters in the USA?

    • emptywheel says:

      Not at all. Like I said–we had need of his services when we wanted stuff flown into dangerous areas of Iraq. Since Iraq is still pretty dangerous, presumably we’ve found someone to replace his services.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It doesn’t require a love of Steven Seagal straight-to-video movies to suspect that one of the world’s biggest covert arms dealers might have been outed by a rival gang – or a government or an intelligence agency he fell afoul of (prices or visibility too high, being too “bipartisan” in who he sells to).

      Not that any government, certainly not this one, would take this case to a court. Rules of evidence might be as hard to comply with as in Gitmo. Not to mention that discovery and any normal defense would risk being “state secreted” away, virtually assuring the case would be tossed.

      Will be imprisoned for life without trial in sunny American-occupied Cuba, pony up the hard drives with “the” incriminating details, or just lower his prices? Enquiring minds want to know.

      • emptywheel says:

        Oh, I don’t know. Poppy managed to imprison Noriega (and he just got shipped to France for some more jail time). I imagine they’re hoping for similar treatment for Bout.

  3. egregious says:

    A bad actor. Something complicated is going on.

    The laptop undoubtedly describes Venezuela’s nuclear program, which means we just have to attack them, don’t you see?

    • emptywheel says:

      Coming from our local post-Soviet Russian expert, that’s saying something.

      Click through that link on the debate about the laptop. Indeed, Columbia is saying FARC wanted uranium to make a dirty bomb. It appears that the laptop actually says they wanted uranium to sell. A problem in any case–since we like to control uranium sales.

      THen you add in the news Bush is trying to oust Fallon so he can go into Iran. I have LONG thought we wouldn’t go into Iran without first occupying Chzvez, if not taking over his oil fields, because Chavez would almost certainly participate in an embargo with the Iranians, making the oil weapon very dangerous. So you have Uribe tie him up, him and his right wing terrorists that the US–and Chiquita–support.

      • Ishmael says:

        In Colombia, they are trying to pressure Chavez by tying him to terrorists through a sting tied to the War on Drugs. This is possibly a trial run for the attack on Iran, set up by the resolution designating the Revolutionary Guard as “terrorists”, leading to a sting tied to some attack on American forces in Iraq, real or thwarted. Very depressing stuff, no wonder W was so jaunty yesterday.

      • ProfessorFoland says:

        Even if it were cheap, abundant, and easily obtained, Uranium would still be awfully close to dead last on the list of radioactive materials you’d use to make a dirty bomb. It’s practically not radioactive at all–it’s fissionable, but not very radioactive.

      • nomolos says:

        Click through that link on the debate about the laptop. Indeed, Columbia is saying FARC wanted uranium to make a dirty bomb. It appears that the laptop actually says they wanted uranium to sell. A problem in any case–since we like to control uranium sales.

        Follow the Red Cake Road. So Bout becomes just another pawn in the great global chess game of “I’m in charge”. Bushco pays the columbian gummint to create a big noise while planting and then finding “evidence” so that they have an excuse to invade Venezuela to get the oil away from that commie chavez.
        Of course we can also get the Russian Mafia (Putin) pissed at us for going after a “legitimate” Russian businessman. The Chinese might get a little pissy at us messing around in Venezuela a country with which they have a good relationship and from which they get a lot oil. But we have evidence of Chavez being a baddy. We have an arms dealer that has admitted to supplying guns to FARC and being paid by Chavez… “look I have the cancelled cheque to prove it” and look at this we have a memo from Chavez himself checking on the delivery time of the Red Cake from Russia which arms dealer was supposed to deliver.

        The bushies/cia have been playing “I’m in charge” for many decades.

  4. egregious says:

    Indeed, Columbia is saying FARC wanted uranium to make a dirty bomb.

    Crikey. I was joking, but looks like they’re trying this sad fairy tale one more time.

  5. Rayne says:

    Had the same thoughts when I read about Bout’s arrest at the BBC’s site this morning.

    Something’s missing in the article, can’t put my finger on it.

    Between the arms sale that went south in Italy, the silencers that Blackwater shipped into Iraq in violation of export regs as well as the Iraqi planes they tried to commandeer, the opacity of DoD contracts for the last two years, and the presence of a black site in Thailand, there’s a big hole that I bet Bout fills in part.

  6. JohnForde says:

    Russia – Thailand – Liberia – Columbia – The Hague

    Congratulations EW. I think this is your first story with all five continents.

  7. Bushie says:

    I wonder if he provided the CIA arms (M16) for the forgotten overthrow of Aristide in Haiti.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I would like to think so, but the neocons didn’t arrest Noriega: they would have given him more business.

    Still, Bout’s conduct would seem to fit squarely any definition of aiding and abetting terrorism. He would seem the perfect, high-profile criminal defendant for a “law and order” party wanting to keep the White House. The hard part would be deciding whether top US and foreign government officials – and their most intimate private contractors – appear as character witnesses or as witnesses for the prosecution (the latter in both its legal and cinematic meanings).

    It will be interesting to see if this becomes the show trial of the year or a credible stab at decreasing the world’s chaos. But I would not want to be a US marshall on his security detail.

  9. Rayne says:

    Ah, it was right there under my nose in a side bar:

    We will take legal action against him here, before deporting him to face trial in another country.
    — Lt Gen Pongpat Chayapan, Thai Crime Suppressino Bureau

    Want to bet Bout is going into the black site and not coming out? I wonder if folks are beginning to sweep up their tracks.

    Amusing to compare the CNN piece with the BBC piece, by the way. I wonder how this reads in Thai papers, if at all.

    • Stephen Parrish says:

      Rayne –

      What did you think of this quotation from the BBC piece?

      Unconfirmed US media reports say Mr Bout was arrested during negotiations to sell weapons in a sting orchestrated by a DEA special operations unit.

      • emptywheel says:

        I’ll note that it was the DEA that first busted BCCI.

        Of course, back then they got in trouble bc there were so many powerful people who didn’t want BCCI exposed. Though I presume this time, BushCo has been pretty hands on on deciding when Bout no longer served any purpose for the US.

      • Rayne says:

        Nice to “see” you, Stephen.

        Yeah, that bit certainly makes it look like a set up — when paired with Chayapan’s comment, it looks like Bout won’t be out of Thailand for a long time.

        The other subtext here is the proxy skirmish with Russia. Lot of energy resources at play here.

        • emptywheel says:

          I don’t think Bout is Putin’s man. Presumably, he was only allowed to continue with Putin’s blessing (but, hell, he had our blessing until 2005). But IIRC, Bout was camping out in Byelorus, not RUssia. Certainly not beyond the arm of Russian mafia, but not living in Putin’s bedroom,either.

  10. HelplessDancer says:

    The Colombians nabbed a laptop from the scene of the Reyes assassination–though already there are disputes about what kind of intelligence the laptop included.

    Call me paranoid, but I am getting suspicious of laptops that come preloaded with incriminating intelligence

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As a related matter, two WaPoo articles mentioned above are well worth reading or re-reading. Not just for the reach of today’s surveillance state, but for the widespread and unregulated use of that information – including by the private sector – once it’s swept up by Bush’s Hoover (pun intended). As the first article underlines, the abuse is the power itself.

    NSL’s and Secret Surveillance:…..01366.html

    National Dragnet a Click Away:…

  12. BillE says:

    OT — Did anyone notice this little gem Carlye misses a margin call

    After living through the death of American Home Mortgage last year ( killed by margin calls) This is interesting because it hits the thuglicans in the pocketbook.

    • Ishmael says:

      If anyone can make up for a missed margin call by calling on Middle East sovereign wealth funds for a capital injection, it is Carlyle. I was more worried when I saw that Citigroup is for all intents and purposes insolvent, even with the amount of Middle East capital poured into it recently. Paulson et al must be doing everything they can to fend this disaster off until November at least.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Good catch. The margin is astronomical; their current inability to meet the margin call led to an 80% drop in their share price. But not even Carlyle would have made a bet that size without expecting that it’s network would back it up or make up the loss. So who they gonna call?

  13. merkwurdiglieber says:

    It really is a global chess game, is it not? I bet this frustrated poker
    player has decided to knock the board over as a parting gift.

  14. bmaz says:

    I guess there are always people willing to make a buck (if they are smart, they will demand Euros); but after a while you wonder who is going to do business with this country when we really do need them. We partnered heavily with Sadaam in the 80s to suit our convenience to curb Iran, and when he indicated he wanted to reclaim what he considered to be Iraqi territory, i.e. Kuwait, we effectively told him there was no objection from the US. Then we took him out for doing so and so stigmatized him that it led to the next Bush in line invading and killing him. Now we walk hand in hand with Bout because we are too chicken to fly our own planes in Iraq, and then turn around and give Bout the boot. Pretty soon, thanks to the Bush neocons, we will be bankrupt, broke and no longer have the dollars(Euros) to buy people, and will have no friends because we are so two faced; who will work with the US then?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Right on, baby. Emperor Bush and his craven Senate have done as much to geld our economy and international stature as they have to republican government. The story that seems not just underreported, but Unreported.

      The permanent increase in oil prices, the permanent rise in outsourcing and decrease in domestic employment, the permanent decline in the value of the dollar and its utility as a reserve currency (and the permanent loss of clout that entails), the semi-permanent devastation to our international relationships generally, and complete inattention on how to address the longterm consequences of China’s rise and Russia’s resurgence. Not to mention, oh, the meltdown in the domestic housing and financial industries and having endowed terrorist trust funds with billions in petro-dollars.

      Not all of those are caused by GWB, of course, but his policies and actions significantly impacted them all. All in, I can’t imagine why anyone would not rate GWB as the worst president in our history.

  15. Loo Hoo. says:

    AP: The Fed says Americans’ percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50 percent for the first time on record since 1945.


  16. MadDog says:

    OT – From the NYT:

    F.B.I. Investigates Missing G.O.P. Money

    Hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing and presumed stolen from the chief fund-raising arm of House Republicans, according to party officials who described the findings of emergency internal audits.

    The financial records of the group, the National Republican Congressional Committee, may also have been falsified for several years, Republican officials said. The campaign committees of several Republican lawmakers may also have been victims of a scam that is now under criminal investigation by the F.B.I.

    The audits were ordered after the abrupt departure several weeks ago of Christopher J. Ward, who had been treasurer of the committee.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yup, workign on it.

      Sounds like the GOp is goingn to claim it was a victim in this. I suspect that’s a convenient way out of admitting organized money laundering. BUt htat’s just a suspicion.

      • Jim Clausen says:

        RICO anyone? I have been saying that for years. Add in non-profits like Norquist and you have money laundering, malfeasance, conspiracy to defraud,all in pusuit of criminal gain and influence

        RICO anyone? Too bad it will get buried in the Abramoff file.

      • bmaz says:

        My thought exactly. NRCC as victim, not perpetrator. I bet they are already identifying funds that Ward has “hidden”…

          • Ishmael says:

            Yeah, used to love talking “reserves” with the Claims Managers – the same greedy trial lawyers that they decry prepare demand letters, and then the claim managers multiply that by 3 to create “reserves” and earn income on without paying taxes. High claims “costs” are not a bug to insurers, they are a feature in a cost-plus 20% ROI business model that also thrives on monthly payments for medical and auto coverage.

            Here endeth the rant.

        • emptywheel says:

          Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure he and the NRCC lawyer and a series of other fronts skimmed the money–there are almost NO costs associated with anything Ward has touched for some time, and it’s clear he had to be getting paid somehow. The FEC kept writing all his funds saying, “um, aren’t there ANY costs assigned?” and the big costs were usually fly-by-night “fundraisers.” The kind of “fundraisers” who might be getting paid for other services.

          But I also think they were laundering money that eventually went into swing districts. And I’m betting somewhere in the network soft turned into hard.

          • bmaz says:

            No, that is exactly what I was saying, and why I put the quotes around “hidden”. First Rayne, now you, clearly i was too vague and cute by a half. My bet is that there is a furious search underway to find at least thinly plausible explanations and locations for the money that you describe. There needs to be somewhere to point the finger to if they don’t want it pointed in the direction we believe it should be. I think that is already taking shape…

          • Nell says:

            they were laundering money that eventually went into swing districts. And I’m betting somewhere in the network soft turned into hard.

            Izzockly. This story has many signs of being a gift that will keep on giving…

            My favorite bit from the NYT story:

            Mr. Reynolds said in a statement that he and the national Republican committee were possible victims of “an elaborate scheme resulting in financial irregularities” by a “long-serving professional staff member,” a reference to Mr. Ward. “At no time were there any red flags raised,” the lawmaker said.

            Rep. Reynolds must suffer from severely impaired vision, the kind you get when your eyes are firmly averted.

            • emptywheel says:

              Mr. Reynolds, of course, was also responsible for looking the other way rather than doing something about Mark Foley’s teenage boy habit. Not exactly the kind of guy who likes to see red flags.

        • emptywheel says:

          Well, I’ve done a bunch of wading in the FEC reports, and there are things the Politico and NYT seem to have missed so far. I can’t prove the money laundering yet, but all the signals are there.

          • klynn says:

            I look forward to what you have found. Somewhere on an Ohio political blog (I’ll retrace to find it and post the link) I read something about the incredible number of FEC inquiries regarding costs because activities were listed as $0. I cannot believe the lawyer is stating, “There were no red flags..”


  17. GregB says:

    I get the feelng that some big moves are afoot.

    It looks like there is a pretty large roll-up of assets going on in the world.

    *Muganiyah in Damascus.

    *Reyes in Columbia/Ecuador.

    *Now Victor Bout.

    Shadows of Shah Mahsoud.

    Start saving water and canned goods, its gonna be a hectic spring.


    • emptywheel says:


      Good point on the Muganiyah. Plus the ships off of Lebanon readying for refuge operations.

      Note that Laura Rozen ties Bout into arming Hezbollah. I kind of wonder whether Bout hasn’t been linking much of the anti-US forces together: Hizbullah and Iran to Venezuela and other anti-US forces in Africa.

      Note, too, they took out Reyes in Ecuador with satellite phone signals.

  18. Nell says:

    Good thing the air outside is spring-like. I need to take some deep breaths of fresh air to throw off the feeling of dread induced by the combination of Colombia-Venezuela and Fallon stories.

  19. Mary says:

    I’d tend to wonder if there was some tie with the Spanish arrest and detention, and possible extradition to the US, of arms dealer Monzer al-Kassar.…..4298.shtml

    The extradition issue has been lingering, with extradition seemingly on its way to approval in Oct/Nov, but then snags in Dec (with possible Syrian threats) and then I have no idea.

    But he was also picked up in a FARC sting and either elements of that sting, or perhaps some information trading from al-Kassar, or something from that ball of wax may be a piece of the picture.

  20. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Scott Horton has an important post up about the lawlessness of the Bush/Mukasey regime. Mr. Horton, a former law partner of Mukasey, is a multi-lingual, Ivy League-trained, international corporate lawyer and civil rights proponent. He is a tough, street smart realist who has negotiated with democracies and totalitarian governments and knows how they work. He is not given to hyperbole, and he’s had enough:

    … in America today, the mentality of courtiers has reappeared, and many of them seem bent on reassembling the fragments of that old crown that our ancestors brushed from the head of a Hanoverian usurper. They’re offering that crown up to a new King George. And the new attorney general, barely three months on the job, is installing himself not as a law officer to a republic but as a lackey bent on undoing not one revolution, but three.

    It’s an important read.…..c-90002557

    • Leen says:

      thanks. It is an important read. Do you think Mukasey will interfere in the upcoming Aipac/Rosen espionage trial that dare not speak its name in the MSM or in the so called “progressive” blogosphere?

  21. Mary says:

    I would wonder how this fits in with the arrest of Monzer al-Kassar in Spain (last piece I can find on extradition is from Dec and mentions snags being hit, after the Oct/Nov pieces on the extradition being approved.

    He was picked up in a FARC sting as well.

    And let’s see – what happened, once again, to Chertoff and Chiquita’s support of terrorists in Latin America?

  22. Mary says:

    22 – so suddenly, out of the blue, WaPo finally gets interested in NSLs. They have so little integrity and credibility after the last 5 -6 years.

    IIRC that Library case they discuss was ongoing when Gonzales stood before Congress and boldly said – with all his DOJisciples behind him washing their hands – that they had not used the library provisions. And the librarians immediately wanted to testify to rebutt, but they were gagged about even saying why they wanted to testify, much less testifying.

    All of which was ok with Congress. shhhh shhhhh shhhhh

  23. JohnLopresti says:

    Incarceration of an international business figure like the arrestee has effects in several nations, though I drew no immediate links in a search related to yet another scandal, in 2005 involving misappropriation of US foreign aid earmarked for decommissioning former CCCP nuke facilities ostensibly involving figures Adamov and Kaushansky. However, there seems to be a plethora of Bout information on the internet; e.g., consider this depiction of the Ilyushin-18 fleet visiting places like Sao Tome, Kyrgystan, Slovakia. The Chavez fragment of the reportage only seemed to me a US way to keep view from VE muddied at a time when VE and EC have begun rhetorical, diplomatic and military countermeasures concerning militia hideouts involving CO. I agree with commenters that the arrest is a transitional event; in that spirit, this article on Thailand’s appointed postdictatorship regime’s fiscal experiments. But the shifting tides also involve planning for a possible change of parties controlling US foreign policy. Also recently in the news was the semiofficial announcement of the retirement of UNHCR Louise Arbour, a vocal opponent of state sponsored torture who also elicited the ire of some US congresspersons such as Howard Berman D-CA with indelicate remarks about perennial middle east turmoil. Pre-elections in the US, part of the dynamic among graymarket merchants like Bout, as well as in locales which hosted “rendition” flights, will be an effort to facilitate hibernation, should it become necessary to avoid publicity from a future possibly more curious and open US government.

  24. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Horton comments about Mukasey are not all original; we’ve exchanged many on these pages before, though few as well written. But Scott has come full circle. At first, he expressed hope that Mukasey would bring rational, objective legal judgment to the fetid atmosphere of the Bush DOJ, that he might open the window of a front parlor turned mortuary. He doesn’t think so any more. Mukasey may be better at applying the wax and make-up than Gonzales, but the parlor’s still a mortuary.

    The long and bloody debate about the rule of law vs. the rule of kings that Scott summarizes is essentially a political argument. It is a claim that the judgment of the governed counts, not just the whim of the king. It is about sharing power in an informed, durable way for the benefit of the governed vs. having the power to abuse and torture, to take away the private as well as public lives of those who oppose them.

    George Bush started his presidency wanting to fulfill the wealthy elite’s seventy year-old dream. He wanted to get all of America into a time machine and return it to a fantasy version of the 19th century Gilded Age: pre-civil rights, pre-FDR and his socialist programs, pre-Teddy Roosevelt and his trust busting regulators. Pre-income tax and pre-Union. All for me and none for thee.

    Like most things George does, he didn’t get it quite right. He’s taken the clock back not a hundred years, but four hundred. To a time of religious war, divine rule and anointed successors, and constant warfare, where the only diplomacy comes from the barrel of a ship’s canon.

    But we are not cargo chained between decks going wherever the ship takes us. We can start the time machine moving forward again. Let’s get a real Democrat back in the White House and more in Congress, and let’s stop George from doing any more damage until he goes.

    • bobschacht says:

      “sharing power in an informed, durable way for the benefit of the governed… “

      I think you have put your finger on the problem here. The Bush & Cheney regime regards “the governed” with great disdain as the unwashed masses (which includes, of course, the DFHs) which are to be manipulated for the benefit of rich white folks, i.e. their friends in Halliburton, Exxon, etc. Toadies like AGAG and Condoleeza are the modern-day servants who know their place, and who will do as they’re told.

      I just hope there’s no October surprise.

      Bob in HI

  25. masaccio says:

    The Carlyle problem may be greater than it appears. The margin call was “only” $37 million. One of the commenters at CR says it may be beyond the mortgage backed securities (MBS), and that it looks to him like a derivatives problem. This isn’t being dismissed, and those commenters are quick to dismiss teh stupid.

    • bigbrother says:

      Ian Welch posted last week on FDL about a downward spiral caused by these factors.
      Also as property prices decrease equity is squeezed…causing no equity securing the notes so now we have prime markets coming into play. These notes are held in investment bank portfolios that have to pony up for reserve requirements that are growing and the margin calls from borrowers (S&Ls and hedge funds.
      The credit crunch has been addrressed in part by central bank issuing new greenbacks…devaluaing the dollar savings and reserves.
      Carlyle is deep in the weapoms industry and is benefited by escalation of hostilities.
      There is an underlying neocon strategy to bankrupt progressive government as earlofhuntingdon March 6th, 2008 at 1:45 pm 69 also points out.
      Thsi is not possible without their defacto takeover of the US military so hope is Admiral Fallon stands his ground.

  26. prostratedragon says:

    Laura Rozen has picked up on more pressure on Iran, of a very familiar sort, although totally different from what’s been talked about here: legitimate, very above board, something against which it would be very hard to argue.

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