The doughy, broad-shouldered 41-year-old Russian who Thai police paraded before the press on Friday in an orange golf shirt is a monstrous example of entrepreneurial business acumen gone over to the dark side. He is believed to have supplied arms to the warring factions in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, as well as the perpetrators of some of the worst violence in Africa's interminable civil wars. Experts believe he has shipped AK-47s to every corner of the world. He even appears to have used U.S. airbases in Iraq in 2004 as part of his arms trafficking. He had a shadowy financial network stretching from Europe to Africa to the Middle East.
Amid one of his first big shipments — sending crates of fresh-cut South African gladiolas into the United Arab Emirates — Bout realized it was wasteful flying into Africa with empty planes. According to Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes and the Man Who Makes War Possible, a book on Bout written by Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun last year, Bout began to fill his Africa-bound aircraft with stockpiles of Soviet weapons to sell to some of Africa's most notorious regimes and rebel groups.
The Asian Tribune on the UAE connection:
During the period 1998 -2001 the Taliban regime in Afghanistan operated a major weapons procurement operation based at the Ariana Airline office in Sharjah. Much of the military hardware that the Taliban acquired through the Sharjah network was supplied by the infamous Russian arms dealer Victor Bout also known as the Merchant of Death. Victor Bout and his business associate Sanjivan Ruprah have supplied weapons and training to several West African rebel groups and are accused of involvement in the illicit diamond trade. Victor Bout operated an air cargo service at the Sharjah airport known as Air Cess, which together with Ariana Airlines co-handled most of the military deliveries between Sharjah and Afghanistan. It is estimated that the Sharjah network operated 3 to 4 flights daily between Sharjah and Kandahar transporting weapons and supplies to the Taliban. During this period 17km away in Dubai, the LTTE also operated a cargo company known as Otharad Cargo, headed by Daya the younger sibling of Nithi a Canadian based member of the LTTE’s KP Unit. It is suspected that Otharad Cargo acquired several consignments of military hardware as part of consolidated purchase arrangements with the Taliban’s Sharjah network. It was also the function of Otharad Cargo to service the operations of the LTTE shipping fleet in the Gulf region. Officials of an Asian security agency believe Kumaran Pathmanadan (KP) head of the LTTE procurement unit (KP unit) traveled from Bangkok through Karachi to Kabul on 19 May 2001 and had meetings with Taliban officials on matters relating to the Sharjah network.The Globe and Mail has this trenchant passage:
To Mr. Bout, it was all just business.Here's the NYT Magazine article from August 2003.
"Look, killing isn't about weapons. It's about the people who use them," he told The New York Times Magazine in an August, 2004[3?], interview. Described as the man whose network was "The McDonald's of arms trafficking," he added that to him, "arms is no different than pharmaceuticals."
The reporter who interviewed Mr. Bout for that article said yesterday that he anticipates the arrest will backfire. "He has a lot to say that will be deeply damaging to the way the world operates," said Peter Landesman, who spent 10 days in Moscow with the suspect in 2004[3?].
He said Mr. Bout recently got in touch with him to discuss a possible tell-all book. The writer added that just about every Western government, including the United States, was complicit in Mr. Bout's deals at some point or another. "He's doing our dirty work for us," Mr. Landesman said. "Who do you think his customers are? Where do you think he got these weapons? That he just pulled them down off trees?"