A renowned Russian arms dealer at the centre of a prisoner swap effected on Thursday involving US basketball player Brittney Griner has opened old wounds the world over, including Uganda.
Mr Viktor Bout, whose “Merchant of Death” moniker leaves nothing to one’s imagination, was released after serving 12 years of a 25-year prison term. At the height of his business, Mr Bout sold weapons to Uganda and secretly moved them to conflict zones via Entebbe International Airport.
He frequently used Uganda as a conduit for the weaponry he was smuggling, especially to West Africa, according to a United Nations (UN) report.
According to a 2000 UN investigation, Mr Bout had dealings with individuals from Rwanda and Uganda.
The Russian engaged in the trade of unlawfully mined diamonds from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A 2002 UN Security Council report titled “Plundering of DR Congo natural resources: Final report of the Panel of Experts” highlights his relationship with Ugandan authorities.
“As in the past, the network continues to involve the transnational criminal group of Victor Bout. Mr Bout recently purchased the Uganda-based non-operational airline company Okapi Air. The purchase of the company allowed Victor Bout to use Okapi’s licences. The company was subsequently renamed Odessa,” the report reads in part.
It further adds: “The Panel is in possession of a list of outbound flights from 1998 to the beginning of 2002 from Entebbe International Airport, which confirms the operational activities of Mr Bout’s aircraft from Ugandan territory. Currently, Mr Bout’s aircraft share the flight times and destinations (slots) with Planet Air, which is owned by the wife of Lt Gen [now General] Salim Saleh and which facilitates the activities of Mr Bout by filing flight plans for his aircraft.”
The report also revealed that Mr Bout “conducted a covert cargo air transport operation under the guise of a camouflage airline.”
It proceeds to note that “Air Cess identified as the flagship firm of Victor Bout’s network had operations in Entebbe, according to OpenSanctions, an open-source database of sanctions data, politically exposed persons, and other entities of interest.”
Investigations by authorities in Belgium, Swaziland, and South Africa showed that it was initially operating in Belgium, but had to relocate more than once since it originally surfaced in 1995.
It was the only company in Mr Bout’s network that ever listed him as its CEO. He established Air Pass in Swaziland through a partnership with a South African business.
In this joint venture, Air Cess held a 90 percent stake. According to the records, Mr Bout owned 90 percent of the Air Pass shares.
Viktor Bout reportedly gave his brother, Sergei Bout, daily operational responsibility of Air Cess at some point in the 1990s, according to NGO reports.
Mr Bout was arrested at a hotel in Bangkok, the Thai capital. Two years later, he was extradited to the United States where he spent 12 years in and for conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.
The 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War, which was partially based on his life, was inspired by his dealings.