UNITED NATIONS -- A new report by the head of an international nongovernmental organization says the legacy of imprisoned Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout lives on through his former top associates -- with a shadowy network reaching from Africa to Iran, Russia, and the United States.
The report by Kathi Lynn Austin -- executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project -- says Bout's former trafficking network has been gearing back up, with many of the same players involved in the ring despite Bout's 2011 conviction and imprisonment.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States in 2010 to stand trial on terrorism charges after being accused of intending to smuggle arms to rebel fighters in Colombia for use against U.S. forces.
He was sentenced by a New York jury to 25 years in prison for conspiring to sell weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group.
In her new report, Austin details activities of two of Bout's former top lieutenants -- Sergey Denisenko and Andrei Kosolapov -- and their trafficking network, which stretches from Mauritius, the United States, Finland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Africa into Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It says two U.S.-sanctioned companies in Iran -- the National Iranian Oil Company, and FKJ Cargo Iran -- have ties to Denisenko.
Austin said Kosolapov personally told her that the Russian government’s "wink and a nod" to arms traffickers is what largely drives the trade.
The Conflict Awareness Project supplied RFE/RL with audio of Kosolapov from one of Austin's interviews.
"Somebody says it’s [arms trafficking] wrong, somebody [else] says it’s right," Koslapov can be heard saying at one point. "Okay, who are you? You are Russian. What does Russia say? [It’s] right, right. Finished -- easy as that."
He added that he knew he was "doing legitimate business" "because I am Russian."
Denisenko, who is blacklisted from doing business with any U.S. company due to his close association with Bout, acquired a lease agreement through a Finnish company, which then leased a plane for him from an Australian-owned aviation company in Bangor, Maine.
Elaborate Trafficking Network
Denisenko and Kosolapov were waiting on an air operation certification from Mauritius to kick off their activities full-force. This month Mauritius denied them the certificate, and is now investigating their activities.
According to Austin, the elaborate trafficking networking was financed through Denisenko’s UAE-based company Avialinx, which has ties to Iran.
"We have a company that was based out of UAE financing a Mauritian -- joint Russian, South African, Mauritian enterprise," she says. "You had South Africans sourcing planes and providing maintenance services. You had aircraft acquired from the United States. You had the aircraft leased through a European company with accounting services in the UK. That multijurisdictional nature of a major illicit arms trafficking ring is why we need a very strong arms trade treaty."
The month-long treaty negotiations aimed at hammering out the first-ever binding arms trade agreement were delayed for a week over procedural wrangling. Non-governmental organizations say the talks are still a week behind schedule, and are due to wrap up on July 27.
Major issues include whether the treaty will regulate the sale of ammunition, whether it will contain a provision preventing the transfer of arms to areas where they would be used to violate human rights law, and whether "non-military small arms" will be regulated by the treaty.
Director of the Control Arms Secretariat Jeff Abramson said it "makes no sense" to exclude ammunition and non-military small arms. He also maintained that Iran, along with several other countries, has been problematic in the negotiations.
"There’s still a group of so-called skeptic states," he said. "They are engaged in the process but we think their vision of the treaty is not the one that the majority hold, and they are still active. These include states such as Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea, which reject core principles around human rights and so forth in the way that we envision them, included in the treaty."
The treaty requires a consensus among all member states to be adopted, effectively giving each delegation veto power.