The Justice Department has unsealed an indictment against alleged international arms merchant Viktor Bout and his associate Richard Chichakli. Bout has been dubbed "The Merchant of Death" for his role in alleged arms trafficking around the world and his willingness to sell to every side, supplying dictators, revolutionaries and Islamic militants, and even working for the U.S. in Iraq.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation and has been battling his extradition to United States ever since. He was initially indicted in March 2008 for conspiring to kill Americans for attempting to sell arms to the left-wing FARC insurgents in Colombia. American officials are hopeful that the latest charges may pave the way for his extradition.
The new indictment charges Bout with conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) for allegedly trying to hide millions in profits from arms dealing. International authorities had tried to freeze Bout's assets after he was accused of providing weapons to former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was fueling a bloody insurgency in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor is currently on trial before an international court for his alleged role in the violence.
The indictment gives seven different aliases for Bout, including "Boris," "Viktor Budd," "Viktor Butt," and "Vadim Aminov." It asserts that as late as 2007, Bout was still trying to form a new aviation company to hide the proceeds of arms dealing.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bout, a former Soviet military officer, made his fortune selling Soviet-era weaponry to Third World despots and insurgent groups. Bout dispatched fleets of Cold War-era Soviet cargo planes to some of the most inhospitable corners of the earth, running guns for dictators, including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Zaire's Mubuto Sese Seko, as well as rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and beyond.
The indictment cites 15 aviation companies that Bout owned, including Air Cess, Irbis Air Company and Santa Cruz Imperial. According to the U.N. and the U.S. Treasury Department, two of the companies, San Air General Trading and Centrafrican Airlines, played a key role in supporting Taylor and the Sierra Leone rebels. Bout's payments allegedly included diamonds.
Bout also allegedly trafficked arms for the Taliban, and his aviation services were so vast that the Pentagon contracted one of his companies to deliver goods into Iraq from 2003 to 2005.
U.S. government contractors paid Bout-controlled firms roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq in support of the U.S. war effort, according to a book about Bout called "Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Plans, and the Man Who Makes War Possible," by reporters Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun.
At the time, Bout was already a wanted international fugitive. Intelligence officials had considered Bout one of the greatest threats to U.S. interests, in the same league as al Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden. Interpol had issued a warrant for his arrest; the United Nations Security Council had restricted his travel.
Intelligence reports also indicate Bout supplied armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and arms to Somali warlords.