Bout Far from Alone

Writing over at Russia Profile, Roland Oliphant has some fascinating quotes from Roy Isbister of Safer World.  One of the reasons why I think any trial of Viktor Bout is unlikely to reveal any “blockbuster” exposures is that so many governments, including the U.S., were complicit at one level or another in his activities.

Isbister agreed with the idea that the weight of evidence against Bout’s claim that he was no more than an honest “taxi” driver is overwhelming. But working out who he was working for is much more difficult. “I haven’t seen any evidence to the effect that the Russians have been using him for the ‘plausible deniability’ defense,” said Isbister. “But it’s certainly possible in the world of arms trading, and it wouldn’t only be Russia that would be capable of that kind of behavior.”

The circuitous routes illicit arms traders use makes it challenging, ifnot impossible, to trace weapons between their point of origin and finaldestination. The 2001 UN report, for instance, describes the route of ashipment of AK-47s that passed through Slovakia, Uganda, Moldova andthe United Arab Emirates before finally ending up in Liberia.Unscrupulous traders can also make use of false documentation andintermediary countries – and in this sense Bout, if he is guilty, is farfrom unique.

To illustrate the kind of trade Bout represents, Isbister pointed to a2006 Italian investigation into drug trafficking that stumbled on amassive deal involving Italian intermediaries helping Libya to procure avast number of assault rifles (different sources cite anything from500,000 to three million) from China. “The deal was legal at the Chineseand Libyan end (though not in Italy, which is why the brokers werearrested), but the idea that all of those arms were going to stay inLibya is hard to credit,” said Isbister. “Arms brokers such as VictorBout are masters at exploiting the legal loopholes to arrange transfersthat, although likely to have catastrophic consequences, are not againstthe law per se.”