- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

International arms dealer Viktor Bout, the so-called “Merchant of Death” being held in Thailand on charges of selling weapons to Marxist rebels in Colombia to kill Americans, was named Wednesday in an indictment unsealed in New York as conspiring to finance an aircraft fleet to arm bloody conflicts and support rogue regimes worldwide.

Mr. Bout and an associate, Richard A. Chichakli, were accused of money-laundering conspiracy, wire-fraud conspiracy, and six separate counts of wire fraud, along with charges of conspiring to purchase two aircraft from companies in the U.S. in violation of economic sanctions that prohibited such financial transactions, said Michele M. Leonhart, acting head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The indictment coincides with renewed efforts by the U.S. government to extradite Mr. Bout to New York from Thailand.

Thai courts have declined to extradite Mr. Bout on the basis of the original charges. But on Wednesday, they also declined a request by Mr. Bout to be released on bond.

“The United States has apprised Thai authorities of the new charges against Bout … and will continue to work closely with them on this matter,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

According to the federal indictment, Mr. Bout, 43, carried out a massive weapons-trafficking business by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.

The arms that Mr. Bout has sold or brokered have fueled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan, the indictment said. He has controlled a large fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft since at least 1996, it said.

The indictment said that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Mr. Bout was able to acquire surplus or obsolete aircraft that he used to deliver arms and ammunition. It said that because of his extensive network of aircraft and operations companies, he had the ability to “transport large-scale military machinery, as well as extensive stores of weapons to virtually any location in the world.”

Because of U.N. sanctions against many of the aircraft companies they ran, the indictment said, Mr. Bout and Mr. Chichakli began in 2007 to form new aviation and other companies to further their goal of transporting arms and ammunition worldwide and did so secretly — by registering the new companies in the names of others and hiding the involvement of the two men.

The indictment said they created and registered Samar Airlines in Tajikistan in the others’ names, and then set out to purchase airplanes on Samar’s behalf — mainly a Boeing 727-200 and a Boeing 737-200. Nearly $2 million was transferred by wire into the U.S. from banks overseas to facilitate the purchase.

Viktor Bout was originally charged in March 2008 with conspiring to kill Americans by selling millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombia-based narco-terrorists,” said Mrs. Leonhart. “Further investigation has revealed additional criminal activities by Bout including money-laundering and wire-fraud conspiracy.

“The additional charges contained in the newly unsealed superseding indictment amply illustrate the extraordinary breadth of Bout’s deadly criminal enterprise,” she said.

Mr. Bout was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in May 2008, accused of conspiring to sell to Marxist guerrillas in Colombia millions of dollars worth of weapons to be used to kill Americans in that country.

Then-U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said Mr. Bout had carried out his weapons-trafficking business since the 1990s by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.

Viktor Bout has long been considered by the international community as one of the world’s most-prolific arms traffickers,” Mr. Garcia said at the time.

As part of the 2008 indictment, Mrs. Leonhart noted that between November 2007 and March 2008, Mr. Bout agreed to sell to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) millions of dollars worth of weapons, including surface-to-air missile systems, armor-piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, anti-personnel land mines, C-4 plastic explosives, night-vision equipment, ultralight airplanes that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Mrs. Leonhart said Mr. Bout was arrested by Thai authorities on a provisional arrest warrant, based on a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, charging conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

She said Mr. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two sources working with the DEA, who said they were acquiring the weapons for the FARC, with the specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack U.S. helicopters in Colombia.

According to the first indictment, during a covertly recorded meeting in Thailand on March 6, 2008, Mr. Bout told undercover agents he could arrange to airdrop the arms to the FARC in Colombia, and offered to sell to the FARC two cargo planes that could be used for arms deliveries.

That indictment said Mr. Bout told the agents he understood they wanted to use the arms against American personnel in Colombia, adding that the U.S. also was his enemy and that the FARC’s fight against the U.S. also was his fight.

It accused Mr. Bout of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals; conspiracy to kill U.S. officers or employees; conspiracy to acquire and use an anti-aircraft missile; and conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Mr. Bout, a Russian who formerly served as a military translator but has been in the arms business since the mid-1990s, and Mr. Chichakli, 51, a U.S. citizen who was born in Syria and served in the U.S. Army, have been close business associates for the past several years.

Since at least 2000, Mr. Bout’s role in providing international conflicts with weapons, as well as his close relationship with Mr. Chichakli, have been recognized by the international community.

Based in part on their close association with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, both Mr. Bout and Mr. Chichakli were the subjects of United Nations Security Council sanctions restricting their travel and their ability to conduct business around the world.

According to the U.N. sanctions, Mr. Bout “supported former President Taylor’s regime in [an] effort to destabilize Sierra Leone and gain illicit access to diamonds.”

The sanctions also noted that Mr. Chichakli had a “significant role in assisting [Mr. Bout] in setting up and managing a number of his key firms and moving money.”

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