Friday, August 20, 2010

Victor Bout but tip of iceberg

Bout 'smuggled weapons to Africa' says ex-UN man

Viktor Bout at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on 20 August 2010 Viktor Bout denies that he is an arms trafficker

More details are emerging about the activities of Victor Bout, an alleged arms dealer once described by a British minister as the "Merchant of Death".

Mr Bout is being extradited from Thailand to the United States, where he faces arms dealing charges relating to Colombia.

But a former United Nations investigator on sanctions-busting has told the BBC that Mr Bout was also involved in illegal weapons smuggling in several African states.

'Blood diamonds'

Several official UN reports have linked Mr Bout to arms smuggling activities in Africa.

One documents 37 arms flights it says were operated by him to supply the former rebel group, Unita, in Angola in 1997 and 1998, when the rebels were subject to a UN embargo.

The UN stepped up its investigations a few years later with a Panel of Experts, who looked into violations of an arms embargo on Liberia, then run by former President Charles Taylor, who is currently facing war crimes charges at The Hague.

The panel was investigating the trade in "blood diamonds" from Liberia's neighbour Sierra Leone - diamonds which were used to buy weapons for rebels in the brutal Sierra Leonean war.

  Liberia's former President, Charles Taylor, is on trial at The Hague for war crimes

A former member of the UN Panel, Johan Pelemen, told the BBC he believed Mr Bout was deeply involved.

"With all the shipments that we were able to document that were sent to Liberia in violation of the arms embargo, Victor Bout and his network was the most important network that supplied the regime in Liberia," he said.

Mr Bout denies that he is an arms trafficker.

A website sympathetic to him describes him as a dynamic businessman.

The website says Mr Bout was born in the former Soviet Union and first went to Africa as a Soviet military translator.

He is reported to be able to speak nine languages.


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