Who is Victor Bout, the arms dealer who can be traded for Britney Greiner

Long considered the world’s largest arms dealer and sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison in the United States, Victor Bout could very soon return to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange agreement, in particular against basketball player Britney Grenier.

Was Victor Bout the “lord of war”, the world’s largest arms dealer as many presented him, or just a simple business manager who rented out his machines without knowing what they were carrying, as he maintains even today?

Ten years after his conviction by American justice, he could now be the subject of a prisoner exchange against him Basketball player Britney Greiner, who was recently sentenced To nine years in prison, and former soldier Paul Whelan, who is serving a sixteen-year sentence for the “aggravated regime” in Russia for “espionage”.

Young GRU officer

Victor Anatolyevich Butt was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, the current capital of Tajikistan, the son of a mechanic’s mother and an accountant’s mother. At school, in the Soviet system, he quickly showed a passion and a good aptitude for foreign languages, especially Esperanto, which he imagined would become the world’s language.

After his studies, he left to perform his military service in the Red Army before continuing his studies at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages ​​in Moscow, an institution that specially trains future agents of the GRU, the General Directorate of Military Intelligence of the Czech Republic. Soviet Army.

He was a polyglot, then worked as an officer in the Russian Air Force, where he was a translator. In 1987, he left the borders of the Soviet Union for the first time, heading to Mozambique on a two-year assignment (speaking Portuguese). A trip that will create a passion for the African continent and will allow him to form connections that will be very useful to him later. It was there that he met his future wife, Alla Protasova, then married a journalist, marrying her in 1991. He also traveled to Angola before returning to the Soviet Union, more specifically to Belarus, where he attended the collapse of the Soviet Union. soviet union.

Discover a new world

The end of the Soviet era for Victor Bout, as for many of his compatriots, was marked by a period of euphoria. Everything seems possible to him, even if he hasn’t really had a job since he quit the army. ” Every day was a new adventure, we never knew if we would find food or what would happen. We were living in the moment Explained in a 2015 documentary made for Arte.

At this time he smelled the bargain. Because in post-Soviet Russia it is in utterly tatters, opportunities are running through the streets. Then Victor Bout created a food import company that would allow him to quickly make contacts and earn money. In 1993, after a trip to Holland, he decided to move to Belgium to set up a new company there with one of his friends.

They are buying their first plane: the Iliouchine Il-76, a Soviet-made medium and long-range, four-engine medium and long-range military transport aircraft. As he said, the idea then was to lease these old Soviet aircraft, and to lease them, in turn, three times more expensive. And he signed with Angola a very lucrative contract. The company will quickly file for bankruptcy, but this allows it to see all the possibilities related to this type of activity.

From a simple entrepreneur to the largest owner of a fleet of private jets

After Brussels, Victor Bout moved to the United Arab Emirates, to Sharjah, in the free zone. A choice that would pay off. Globalization was in full swing in 1994 and business was booming for shipping companies like his. Its aircraft fleet is growing very rapidly and deliveries to the former Soviet republics are increasing. Money flowed freely to the Bout family, which was growing with the birth of their daughter.

But behind this shipping activity hides another, more profitable one: the sale of weapons, even to countries under embargo. Africa focuses most of its activities (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, etc.), but it also does business in Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Afghanistan, where it delivers weapons to the Northern Alliance of Commander Massoud.

One of its planes was also intercepted in August 1995 by the Taliban, and it took a year of negotiations before its three pilots and their planes carrying 30 tons of ammunition could return to the UAE. Victor Bout has long denied that he worked with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, even if CIA reports claim otherwise.

Africa, Victor Bout Stadium

The African continent will make Victor Bout famous. Whoever managed to weave networks in the former Soviet republics – in Bulgaria, Ukraine and Moldova in particular – to get weapons, armored vehicles and even helicopters at unbeatable prices, he will delight the unfortunate armed groups. Of the population. And even if he also continues to transport food products or consumer goods, allowing him to carry out legal activity and justify the existence of his planes, it is the arms sales that will actually make his fortune.

In Angola, he managed to sell weapons to both sides: the government army and UNITA. In Liberia, he established close relations with Charles Taylor. In Zaire, he helped Mobutu leave the country, then armed and trained Jean-Pierre Bemba’s men. Viktor Bout doubled the pitches and was even able to serve for the French Army in 1994 by helping to transport troops for Operation Turquoise. Food will also be transferred to the World Food Programme.

Activities that allow it to appear in the eyes of the international community. In the meantime, he moved to South Africa, while maintaining his base in the United Arab Emirates.

Iraq is the beginning of the end

In the early 2000s, the name Victor Bout appeared more and more often in reports from Western intelligence services. This increasingly awkward presence forces him to pack up, leave the UAE and return to Russia, but it doesn’t stop him from continuing his business.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, it began to become a favorite target. But its impressive fleet of cargo planes allows it to have a few years of rest. In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq by the United States, its planes helped the US military in terms of logistics, much to the surprise of some American soldiers who know Victor Bout’s lineage. This pattern is repeated in Afghanistan. And in December 2006, his company also helped the United Nations after the terrible tsunami that affected many countries in the Indian Ocean. But the noose is narrowing, and the CIA is making it one of its main targets.

Under UN sanctions, targeted by an international arrest warrant, Victor Bout was able to escape potential arrest thanks to his multiple identities and different passports. His high-level contacts within the Russian authorities may have had something to do with it as well. And in particular his friend Igor Sechin. The current Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, who is close to Vladimir Putin, met Victor Bout in Mozambique in the 1980s, when he was also serving in the Soviet army. He will be one of his main contacts in the Kremlin.

The adventure ends in 2008, when Victor Bout is arrested in Thailand after a DEA operation. Members of the US Drug Enforcement Agency pose as members of the Colombian FARC, which the US considers a terrorist group, during a meeting they organized in Bangkok. It was agreed to hand over weapons and ammunition. Then the Thai police proceeded to arrest him.

Extradition and sentencing in the United States

Victor Bout was imprisoned for the first time in Thailand. After a confrontation with Thai justice, he is finally Delivered to the United States in November 2010. Extradition Moscow considered illegal and demanded his release. Victor Bout was prosecuted for arms smuggling with the FARC and conspiracy against US citizens, convicted on November 2, 2011 and subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison by a federal court in New York, the minimum sentence for the crimes attributed to him.

Since then, the “merchant of death”, as he is nicknamed, has continued to proclaim his innocence. He said, he was unaware that his clients carried weapons and ammunition on the planes he chartered for them. An exchange for Edward Snowden was mentioned for some time, but the discussions between Washington and Moscow did not go further.

If the exchange with basketball player Britney Greiner and ex-soldier Paul Whelan materialized, then his return to Russia will please his relatives and allies in the highest circles of the Kremlin. It is also a veritable failure of American and international justice against the person regularly presented as the world’s greatest arms dealer, so much so that it inspired the character played by actor Nicolas Cage in the film. War Lord (2005).

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