Viktor Anatolyevich Bout (Russian: Виктор Анатольевич Бут; born 13 January 1967) is a Tajik arms dealer.
He was arrested in Thailand in 2008 before being extradited in 2010 to the United States to stand trial on terrorism charges after having been accused of intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for use against U.S. forces. On 2 November 2011, he was convicted by a jury in a Manhattan federal court of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and officials, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist organization.
A former Soviet military translator, Bout had reportedly made a significant amount of money through his multiple air transport companies, which shipped cargo mostly in Africa and the Middle East during the 1990s and early 2000s. Bout was equally willing to work with Charles Taylor in Liberia, the United Nations in Sudan, and the United States in Iraq, and he may have facilitated huge arms shipments during the 1990s into various civil wars in Africa with his private air cargo fleets.
Bout says he has done little more than provide logistics, but former British Foreign Office minister Peter Hain called Bout a "sanctions buster" and described him as "the principal conduit for planes and supply routes that take arms from east Europe, principally Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, to Liberia and Angola".
In cooperation with American authorities, Royal Thai Police arrested Bout in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 6, 2008. The United States ambassador requested his extradition under the Extradition Act between the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States, which was eventually mandated by the Thai High Court in August 2010. Before his extradition to the United States in November 2010, Bout expressed confidence that this U.S. trial would eventually lead to his acquittal, but this did not occur. From January 2011 to June 2012, Bout was incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York City. Following his conviction, he was sentenced on 5 April 2012 to 25 years imprisonment by a U.S. judge. In June 2012, he was transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.
UN documents and Bout himself both state his birthplace as Dushanbe, USSR, (now the capital of Tajikistan) possibly on 13 January 1967, but a few other birthplaces have been suggested: A 2001 South African intelligence file listed him as Ukrainian in origin.
Soviet military service
There is some confusion regarding Bout's military career although it is clear he served in the Soviet Armed Forces. Having graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, he is said to be fluent in six languages. These include Persian and Esperanto, which he had mastered by age 12, and in the early 1980s he was member of the Esperanto club in Dushanbe.
Bout's personal website states that he served in the Soviet Army as a translator, holding the rank of Lieutenant. He is thought to have been discharged in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. But other sources state he rose to the rank of Major in the GRU (an arm of the Soviet military that combines intelligence services and special forces), that he was an officer in the Soviet Air Forces, that he graduated from a Soviet military intelligence training program, or that he was a KGB operative.
Bout was involved with a Soviet military operation in Angola in the late 1980s. He has said he was in Angola for only a few weeks. Bout's web site states that he began an air freight business in Africa around the time of the collapse of the USSR.
Bout's nickname, "Sanctions Buster", is due to his being implicated of facilitating the violation of UN arms embargoes in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990s. Bout's air freight companies provided service to the French government, the UN, and the U.S. Bout has reportedly shipped flowers, frozen chicken, UN peacekeepers, French soldiers, and African heads of state.
Bout acknowledges having been to Afghanistan on numerous occasions during the 1990s but has denied dealing with al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Beginning in 1994, he made shipments for the pre-Taliban government, which later became the Northern Alliance, and he knew Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan Northern Alliance commander. The CIA has described Bout-owned planes as transporters of small arms and ammunition into Afghanistan. In 1995, he was involved in negotiations to free Russian hostages during the 1995 Airstan incident.
A 2000 United Nations report stated, "... Bulgarian arms manufacturing companies had exported large quantities of different types of weapons between 1996 and 1998 on the basis of (forged) end-user certificates from Togo", and that "... with only one exception, the company Air Cess, owned by Victor Bout, was the main transporter of these weapons from Burgas airport in Bulgaria". This was the first time Bout was mentioned in connection with arms trading, and the weapons may have been destined for use by União Nacional para a Independencia Total de Angola (UNITA), one faction in Angola's 1975–2002 civil war.
Another suspected arms dealer, Imad Kebir, is said to have employed Bout's aircraft during the mid-1990s to transport weapons to Africa from Eastern European states. The cargo supposedly had Zairean end user certificates, but the true end-user was UNITA. From 1993, UNITA was covered under Resolution 864, a United Nations Security Council embargo prohibiting the importation of arms to Angola.
Bout was suspected of supplying Charles Taylor with arms for use in the Sierra Leone Civil War. Eyewitnesses describe personal meetings between the two.
United Arab Emirates
In 1993, Bout began collaborating with Syrian-born Richard Chichakli and in 1995 the Sharjah International Airport in the United Arab Emirates hired Chichakli to be the commercial manager of its new free trade zone, which saw use from Bout. Chichakli was, at one time, called Bout's "financial manager" by the U.S.
After the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Bout appeared in Moscow and stated that while his aircraft made regular flights to the country, he had never made contact with al Qaeda or the Taliban — instead supplying the rebel Northern Alliance. He may have sold planes to the Taliban, however.
Soon after the beginning of the 2001–2014 war in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is said to have moved gold and cash out of the country; reports state that some of the planes used to do this were linked to Bout. In July 2003, the New York Times interviewed Bout, who stated that "I woke up after Sept. 11 and found I was second only to Osama."
Bout is suspected of supplying weapons to numerous armed groups in the Second Congo War in the 2000s and may have employed some 300 people and operated 40 to 60 aircraft.
Bout's network allegedly delivered surface-to-air missiles used to attack an Israeli airliner during takeoff in Kenya in 2002.
Bout was reportedly seen meeting with Hezbollah officials in Lebanon during the run-up to the 2006 Lebanon War. Some sources claim he was actually in Russia when the meeting took place.
Records found in Muammar Gaddafi's former intelligence headquarters in Tripoli shortly after the overthrow of the Gaddafi government in 2011 indicated that in late September 2003 British intelligence officials told then-Libyan intelligence chief Musa Kusa Bout had a "considerable commercial presence in Libya" and aimed to expand his interests there.
Places of residence
Bout has lived in various countries, including Belgium, Lebanon, Rwanda, Russia, South Africa, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
Alleged Russian government and intelligence ties
It is thought that Bout was of help to Russia's intelligence agencies, and he is alleged to have connections to ranking Russian officials, including Igor Sechin. The language institute Bout attended has been linked to the GRU. Bout allegedly worked alongside GRU-affiliated, and former Russian deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin, in Africa in the 1980s although both men deny this allegation. According to a 2002 United Nations report, Bout's father-in-law Zuiguin "at one point held a high position in the KGB, perhaps even as high as a deputy chairman".
Orders and warrants regarding Bout
Bout's strategy of constantly moving location, owning numerous companies, and frequently re-registering aircraft made it hard for authorities to make a case against him. He has never been charged for the alleged African arms deals to which he owes his notoriety.
Belgian authorities requested that Interpol issue a notice for Bout on charges of money laundering, and in 2002 an Interpol red notice on Bout was issued. Bout's website states that because he failed to appear in court a Belgian warrant (not the Interpol notice) for his arrest was issued but later cancelled. The site has a document in Dutch to support the claim that the Belgian case against him was dismissed due to his lack of a fixed residence and because the case could not be prosecuted in a timely fashion.
On the date of his arrest in Bangkok, an Interpol red notice was requested by the United States against Bout. The alleged crime was conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
Executive Order 13348
Bout's U.S. assets were among those frozen in July 2004 under Executive Order 13348. The Order describes him as a "businessman, dealer and transporter of weapons and minerals" and cites his close association with Charles Taylor.
Charged in 2000 with forging documents in the Central African Republic, Bout was convicted in absentia, but the charges were later dropped.
Thai arrest and extradition
Bout was arrested in Thailand on an Interpol red notice, and on 16 November 2010 he was extradited amid protests by the Russian Government.
The Royal Thai Police arrested Bout in Bangkok on 6 March 2008. The culmination of a sting operation set up by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Bout had allegedly offered to supply weapons to people he thought were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels.
After months of delay, the Criminal Court in Bangkok began an extradition hearing for Bout on 22 September 2008. In February 2009, members of the United States Congress signed a letter to Attorney General Holder and Secretary of State Clinton expressing their wish that the Bout extradition "remain a top priority".
On 11 August 2009, the Criminal Court ruled in his favor, denying the United States' request for extradition and citing the political, not criminal, nature of the case. The United States appealed that ruling. On 20 August 2010, a higher court in Thailand ruled that Bout could, in fact, be extradited to the United States.
On 16 November 2010 Bout was extradited to the United States; the Russian government called the extradition illegal.
Russia's protests and other actions
Russia called the Thai court decision in 2010 politically motivated. Its Foreign Ministry took steps to prevent Bout being extradited to the U.S.; Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Bout was innocent.
On 18 November 2010, shortly after Bout's extradition to the United States, Russian President Medvedev's aide Sergei Eduardovich Prikhodko said that Russia had "nothing to hide" in Bout's criminal case stating, "it is in our interest that the investigation ... be brought to completion, and [Bout] should answer all the questions the American justice system has." On 18 January 2013, Russian government officials announced that “judges, investigators, justice ministry officials and special services agents who were involved in Russian citizens Viktor Bout’s and Konstantin Yaroshenko’s legal prosecution and sentencing to long terms of imprisonment” would be added to a list of U.S. officials who will be denied Russian entry visas in response for the U.S. "Magnitsky Act", under which certain Russian officials are ineligible to enter the U.S.
Prosecution and conviction in the United States
The day after his Bangkok arrest, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Bout with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, conspiring to kill Americans, conspiring to kill American officers or employees, and conspiring to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile. Additional charges against him were filed in February 2010. These included illegal purchase of aircraft, wire fraud, and money laundering.
Bout was convicted by a jury at a court in Manhattan on 2 November 2011. On 5 April 2012, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison (the minimum sentence) for conspiring to sell weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the minimum sentence was appropriate because "there was no evidence that Bout would have committed the crimes for which he was convicted had it not been for the sting operation". Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement denouncing Bout's sentence as "a political order". During the trial, Bout's lawyers also implied that he was a political prisoner. Bout's wife Alla said shortly afterwards that the judge conducted the trial in a proper way. Viktor Bout pointed out that if the same standards were applied to everyone, all American gun shop owner—"who are sending arms and ending up killing Americans"— would be in prison.
In June 2013, a co-conspirator of Bout’s, Richard Ammar Chichakli, was extradited to New York on charges that he conspired to buy aircraft in violation of economic sanctions.
In September 2013, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld Bout's conviction after rejecting Bout's contention that he had been the victim of a vindictive prosecution and that there was no legitimate law enforcement reason to prosecute him.
In the media
The 2005 film Lord of War is purportedly based on allegations about Bout's personal history and black-market activities.
A documentary about Bout, The Notorious Mr. Bout, from Market Road Films and directed by Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin, received its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
In 2007, Stephen Braun and Douglas Farah published a book about Bout: Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible.