Who is Viktor Bout, the “merchant of death” traded by the US? News. Last Minute AFRICA, Russia headlines and events

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The sentence of former Russian officer Viktor Bout, convicted in 2012 by US courts for arms trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in prison, has been commuted. Bout was repatriated in a prisoner exchange that led to the release in Russia of American basketball star Britney Griner.

Nicknamed “The Death Dealer,” Bout began air travel a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which prosecutors allege was used to transport military weapons around the world. Booth often supplied arms to fighters on both sides in the same conflict.

In the February 2010 indictment against Bout, the US Department of Justice made the following allegations:

“An international arms smuggler since the 1990s, Booth has run a massive arms smuggling business, building a fleet of cargo planes capable of transporting arms and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.” sells or brokers in Afghanistan, fuels conflicts and supports regimes in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.”

The Russian government has long claimed that Bout was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully imprisoned. Booth was last held in a federal prison in Marion, Illinois, USA.

Booth’s past is unknown

Little is known about Bout’s early life, except that he grew up in the Tajik capital Dushanbe and was drafted into the Russian army at the age of 18. It is believed that he spoke several languages ​​and was educated at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages ​​in Moscow. The Institute has close ties with the Russian intelligence services.

It is known that Bout left military service during the collapse of the Soviet Union and moved to the United Arab Emirates, where he bought four Soviet An-8 cargo aircraft and founded the Air Cess air transport company.

Over time, Booth’s fleet grew to around 60 aircraft and most of their business was legal.

According to Douglas Farah and Stephen Brown, authors of Death Dealer: Money, Guns, Airplanes, and the Man Who Made War Possible, some of Bout’s contracts are with the US government to bring reconstruction materials to Afghanistan, and some are for humanitarian aid. . This was done with the United Nations for delivery.

worked in African countries

But it was the arms trade that made Bout world famous and extremely wealthy.

In the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large number of military weapons appeared on the black market. Prosecutors and journalists have uncovered evidence that Bout has carried weapons to conflict zones around the world, often to parties subject to international arms embargoes.

Bout was particularly active in Africa and is believed to have provided arms to both the Angolan government and the National Association for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which fought against him in the 1990s.

Similarly, Bout supplied weapons to both sides of the civil war in what was then called Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo; It is believed that she also sold weapons used in conflicts in Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia.

Charles Taylor, a former Liberian president convicted of war crimes for his role in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, is also believed to be one of Bout’s clients.

“Real Monster”

David M. Crane, founder and Attorney General of the United Nations Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone, saw firsthand the consequences of Bout’s arms trade in West Africa.

“He was a real monster in his own right. He was the one who distributed his weapons and ammunition all over the world, in very dark corners of the world, causing pain and suffering wherever he went,” Crane told VOA.

Crane, who founded the non-profit Global Accountability Network, which seeks justice for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, said forces armed with Bout caused the devastation in Sierra Leone.

“Bout was the main supplier of weapons and ammunition in that terrible conflict in West Africa, during which more than 1.2 million people were killed, raped and maimed,” Chase said.

While Africa was Booth’s focus, the “dealer of death” was active in other parts of the world as well.

For example, he is believed to have sold arms and equipment to both the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Northern Alliance, who opposed him in the late 1990s.

How was he caught?

By the end of the 2000s, many arrest warrants for Viktor Bout were issued around the world. Bout, who was denied extradition by Vladimir Putin’s government, rarely left Russia.

However, in 2008 he was flown to Bangkok, Thailand, to meet with what he believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel group attempting to overthrow the Colombian government.

In fact, Booth met with DEA ​​informants. Informants recorded Bout’s offer to sell them hundreds of anti-aircraft missile systems and other heavy weapons. During the meeting, Booth acknowledged that the missiles would be used to shoot down American aircraft specifically designed to transport drugs.

Bout was arrested by Thai police at the scene and extradited to the United States two years later. In the United States, he was charged with various crimes, including violating an arms embargo, conspiracy to kill American officials, and various money laundering and bank fraud charges.

Bout was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Booth’s decision to trade

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the negotiations leading to Bout’s release were protracted and resisted U.S. requests for Bout’s participation in the swap deal.

In a statement to TASS, the Foreign Ministry said: “Washington has categorically refused to engage in dialogue on the inclusion of a Russian citizen in the exchange plan. However, the Russian Federation continued to actively work on the release of our citizen.”

US President Joe Biden did not mention Booth when announcing Griner’s release, but criticized Russia for hiring the basketball star. Biden said Griner “lost months of his life by getting injured unnecessarily.”

Biden also mentioned another American detainee, former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian custody for four years.

Emphasizing that they have not forgotten Paul Whelan, who has been unfairly held in Russia for years, Biden said: “It was not a choice of which American to bring home. Unfortunately, for completely illegitimate reasons, Russia treats Paul’s situation differently than Britney’s. “Despite the fact that we have not yet succeeded in securing his release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

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