Monday, December 13, 2004

International Criminal Networks Must Stick Together 

Longtime Zemblans will recall the name of Viktor Bout, the Russian gun-runner and diamond smuggler whose recent exploits in Iraq have been extensively chronicled by our esteemed colleague Alex Harrowell, the Yorkshire Ranter. Alas, we cannot even pretend to be shocked by the revelation that Bout has been operating under a contract with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, in direct contravention of an order signed by President Bush:
U.S. officials say Bout—once dubbed a "merchant of death" by a British foreign minister—built an empire in the 1990s flying weapons to the Taliban and African dictators and rebel groups, in violation of international sanctions. Bush's order banning business with Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was for supplying guns to the rogue regime of ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor. "Our ultimate goal is to shut down his network," says Juan Zarate, assistant Treasury secretary.

But U.S. officials feared they were being undermined recently when they got evidence that Bout's aircraft were spotted in Iraq. A Pentagon official confirmed that, until last summer, a Texas carrier named Air Bas had a "fuel purchase agreement" authorizing its planes to refuel at U.S. bases there. Air Bas planes landed 142 times at U.S. bases this year, says Jack Hooper of the Defense Logistics Agency. The flights began months after a U.N. report identified Air Bas as a suspected Bout "front company" . . . .

Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall says the firm had "no knowledge" of Air Bas's role, but that the firm stopped using Falcon Express "six months ago." Still, Lee Wolosky, a former National Security Council official who tracked Bout, says it's "seemingly inexplicable" that the U.S. government could have been "doing business with an international criminal organization."
The Newsweek article above comes to us courtesy of Laura Rozen at War and Piece. Rozen also has a juicy item about Marc Rich, who is back in the news for his part in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. Were you aware that Mr. Rich's attorney at the time of his shady dealings with Saddam was none other than Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

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