Notorious Russian arms dealer ‘refused US offer for lighter sentence’

Viktor BoutThe wife of Viktor Bout, the imprisoned Russian arms dealer dubbed ‘the merchant of death’, said he rejected an offer by his American captors who asked him to testify against a senior Russian government official. Born in Soviet Tajikistan, Bout was a former translator for the Soviet military. After the end of the Cold War, he set up several low-profile international air transport companies and used them to transfer large shipments of weapons that fueled wars in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. He made millions in the process and acquired international notoriety, which inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War. But his business ventures ceased in 2008, when he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, with the cooperation of the Royal Thai Police. He was eventually extradited to the US and given a 25-year prison term for supplying weapons to the Afghan Taliban, and for trying to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Bout is currently serving his sentence at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in New York.

In a newspaper interview on Tuesday, Bout’s wife, Alla Bout, said her husband could have gotten away with a considerably lighter sentence had he agreed to testify against a senior Russian government official. Speaking to Moscow-based daily Izvestia, Alla Bout said her husband had been approached by American authorities after being extradited to the United States from Thailand. He was told that US authorities wanted him to testify against Igor Sechin, a powerful Russian government official, whom American prosecutors believed was Bout’s boss. In return for his testimony, US prosecutors allegedly promised a jail sentence that would not exceed two years, as well as political asylum for him and his family following his release from prison. Alla Bout added that her husband’s American lawyers were told by the prosecution that the ‘merchant of death’ “would be able to live in the US comfortably, along with his wife and daughter”, and that his family could stay in America during his trial “under conditions”. Alla Bout claimed she was told this by Bout himself and by members of his American legal team.

From 2008 to 2012, Sechin, who has military background, served as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister. Today he heads the Board of Directors of Rosneft, a government-owned oil extraction and refinement company, which is considered one of the world’s most powerful business ventures. Many observers see Sechin as the most formidable man in Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is also believed to be a senior member of the Siloviki, a secretive group of government officials in the Putin government who have prior careers in national security or intelligence. Although Bout and Sechin have never acknowledged having met each other, some investigators of Bout’s weapons-trading activities believe that the two were close allies. It is believed that the two men first met in Angola and Mozambique in the 1980s, where they were stationed while serving in the Soviet military. But the two men deny they knowing each other. According to Alla Bout, Viktor told his American captors that he “never worked for Sechin and did not know him in person”. He therefore turned down the prosecution’s offer and was handed a 25-year sentence. When asked by the Izvestia reporters whether Bout was simply protecting the powerful Russian government official, Alla Bout insisted that the two “have never even met, not once”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 August 2016 | Permalink

News you may have missed #744

Navi PillayBy IAN ALLEN | |
►►Source says Mikhailov ‘will not be exchanged’ with US. There are rumors going around that the US might consider exchanging Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a New York prison, for one or more CIA spies currently being held in Russian prisons. Russian news agency RIA Novosti has cited a “high ranking official in the Russian security services”, who suggests that Bout “might be exchanged”, but not with Valery Mikhailov, a Russian former counterintelligence officer, who was sentenced this week to 18 years in prison for allegedly spying for the CIA.
►►CIA preparing to pull back from Iraq. The US Central Intelligence Agency is preparing to cut its presence in Iraq to less than half of wartime levels, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “US officials familiar with the planning”. Under the plans being considered, says the paper, the CIA’s presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel. Interestingly, the plan would also reduce the US intelligence presence in the region as neighboring Syria appears to be verging on civil war.
►►Senior UN official blasts US drone strikes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said US drone attacks in Pakistan “raise serious questions about compliance with international law, in particular the principle of distinction and proportionality”. She also voiced concerns that the strikes were being conducted “beyond effective and transparent mechanisms of civilian or military control”. IntelNews provided this opinion on the matter, in 2009.

Russian colonel was ‘most successful CIA spy’ in recent years

Valery Mikhailov, left, with his attorneyBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Before the dust could settle from last month’s closed-door trial of Vladimir Lazar, and the arrest of an unnamed missile engineer on charges of espionage, Russia claims to have exposed yet another spy. Valery Mikhailov, a retired Russian counterintelligence officer, has been given an 18-year prison sentence for allegedly spying on behalf of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. In disclosing Mikhailov’s sentence yesterday, Moscow District Military Court officials were deliberately vague about Mikhailov’s alleged espionage activities, and provided limited information on the precise charges against him. But reporters, who were not allowed to attend Mikhailov’s trial, were told that he voluntarily approached CIA officers in Russia in 2001 and offered to spy on his country on behalf of the US, in exchange for regular payments in cash. Russian government prosecutors said that, from 2001 until 2007, when his activities were detected by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Mikhailov gave his American handlers access to over a thousand copies of secret or top-secret documents. Most of these, according to reports in the Russian media, had been prepared by FSB analysts for top-level Russian government officials, including the President, Prime Minister, and members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. Russian government prosecutors say that Mikhailov was arrested following an extensive period of surveillance by the FSB, which allegedly resulted in the capture of an American CIA courier. The latter was apprehended while surreptitiously collecting classified documents copied by Mikhailov. Following his arrest, Mikhailov is said to have admitted that he earned over $2 million from his espionage activities. Read more of this post

Is US considering transferring convicted arms smuggler to Russia?

Former Soviet military intelligence officer Viktor Bout is one of the world’s most notorious weapons dealers. In 2008, Bout, known informally as ‘the merchant of death’, was finally arrested in Bangkok by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, with the cooperation of the Royal Thai Police. He was eventually extradited to the US and convicted to a 25-year prison term, which he is serving at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in New York. Last week, it emerged that the US Bureau of Prisons was about to transfer Bout to the Florence Federal Correctional Facility in Colorado. Widely referred to as ‘Supermax’, the Florence facility houses some of America’s most notorious prison inmates. It seems a proper fit for someone like Bout, who for decades supplied weapons to African warlords, who is accused by the United States of having supplied weapons to the Taliban, and who was arrested while trying to sell arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On Tuesday, however, it was suddenly reported that the Bureau had decided to delay Bout’s transfer to Supermax. Bout’s attorney, Albert Y. Dayan, said he had been notified in a letter that the Bureau was “re-evaluating where to send Bout” and that it was “reconsidering its plan” to send the notorious weapons merchant to the Colorado maximum security facility. As might be expected, Dayan called the news “a credit [to] the Bureau of Prisons and the US Attorney’s office”; but the question, of course, is why did the Bureau decide on the delay, and what does the US Department of Justice know about it? The answer could perhaps be found in an interview given on Wednesday by no other than the US Attorney General, Eric Holder. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #624

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

►►Russia angry at Viktor Bout’s US guilty verdict. Moscow has reacted angrily to the guilty verdict handed down to Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout by a court in the United States. Bout, a former Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officer, was arrested in a sting operation in Bangkok, Thailand, in March of 2008. At the time of his arrest, he and his two collaborators were negotiating a complex weapons deal with two informants posing as representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s largest leftist paramilitary group.
►►Symposium examined Reagan’s use of intelligence. The CIA released more than 200 declassified documents it prepared for US President Ronald Reagan during a symposium last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. The CIA conference, entitled “Ronald Reagan, Intelligence, and the End of the Cold War“, included a discussion by American and Soviet former spies.
►►Suspected Chinese spy loses bid to rejoin Canada civil service. Haiyan Zhang, worked as a senior communications analyst with the Privy Council Office in Ottawa. She was fired when Canada’s spy agency questioned her “loyalty to Canada” over suspicion she was spying for China. Now she has lost her fight to return to the civil service.

Trial of ‘Lord of War’ weapons smuggler underway in New York

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

He is considered the world’s most notorious weapons smuggler; dubbed ‘the merchant of death’, his life’s story inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Lord of War. But his trial, which is currently underway in New York, has so far gone largely unnoticed by the world’s media. Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officer, was arrested in a sting operation in Bangkok, Thailand, in March of 2008. At the time of his arrest, he and his two collaborators were negotiating a complex weapons deal with two individuals who said they were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America’s largest leftist paramilitary group. However, the interested buyers turned out to be informants of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which was employing them as part of a sophisticated sting operation. Bout was arrested by the Thai Royal Police and was imprisoned in Bangkok, before being extradited to the United States last year. He is now being tried in Manhattan for attempting to supply arms to the FARC, including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and even two airplanes. Earlier this week, the jury heard excerpts from recorded conversations between Bout, his accomplices, and the DEA informants, in which the Russian weapons merchant is heard saying that he and the FARC “have the same enemy” —namely the Americans. Bout voiced this comment in response to a DEA informant’s exclamation that the FARC wanted to use the weapons supplied by Bout “to knock down those American sons of bitches”. The deal was never completed, as it was interrupted by Thai police officers, who stormed into the hotel room and captured a stunned Bout. In another sequence in the recordings, Bout is heard saying that he plans to convince the defense minister of an unidentified country to facilitate the transfer of weapons to the FARC by providing him with official documentation. Read more of this post

Russia may swap convicted spy for ‘merchant of death’ held in US

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout

Moscow and Washington may swap a Russian former defense official, convicted for spying for the United States, with notorious Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout, who is being held in a US prison. Andrei Klychev, 49, who worked at Rosatom Russia’s Nuclear Energy State Corporation, was arrested last year on espionage charges. Last week, he was given an 18-year sentence in a closed-door trial, for spying on behalf of the United States. But Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday that Russia is actively considering swapping Klychev with Viktor Bout, history’s most notorious weapons smuggler, whose shady activities inspired the 2005 motion picture Lord of War. Bout, who was born in 1967 in Dushanbe, Soviet Tajikistan, served in the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) until the dissolution of the USSR, at which point he began supplying weapons to groups ranging from Congolese rebels and Angolan paramilitaries to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In March of 2008, Bout was arrested by the Royal Thai Police, after a tip by US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers. The latter had managed to lure Bout to Thailand by pretending to be Colombian FARC arms procurers. Read more of this post