Friday, May 21, 2004

Viktor Bout: the story splits!

New developments on the story that the international gun runner Viktor Bout has been taken off a UN sanctions list apparently at the behest of the US, despite his links with the Taliban and (allegedly) Osama bin Laden. My Way of Thinking, who seems to have been the first blogger to pick up on the story, reports that the UK has reversed its position on the issue and is now backing the proposal to freeze Bout's assets, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage being quoted as saying that "he deserves to be on an asset freeze list and anything else you can do to him". But the story thickens. Le Monde reported the day before (really the same day because it is an evening paper) that a Bout airline operating under the name "British Gulf" was transporting goods for the US forces in Iraq, with the strong suggestion that his removal from the blacklist was a quid pro quo.

British Gulf International Airlines appears to be based in Sharjah, but registered in Kyrgyzstan (does this sound ominous yet?), and was formed from the assets of a company of the same name registered in Sao Tome of all places, but interestingly also based in Sharjah, in the Sharjah Airport Free Zone. (Its phone number is 06-5570316. Isn't the net great?) It would appear that the owners of BGIA folded their shelf company in Sao Tome and formed another with the same aeroplanes. It apparently operates some four Antonov 12s, of which at least 2 and possibly another were originally registered to old BGIA. The old version of the company possessed some four An12s and an An26. lists one of those An12s as "ultimate fate obscure" but does reveal that the An26 was given its registration, S9-BOV. Oddly enough, although as far as is known the "new" BGIA took over the "old" one's entire fleet, this aircraft is still listed as being with the "old" firm. Another An-12, S9-CAQ, is in storage in Sharjah under the "old" company's name. This stored ship, serial number 3341408, has a past. Its last owner was an outfit called Savanair based in Luanda, Angola. There, some five of its sisters were leased from none other than the Bout company Santa Cruz Imperial. Its friend S9-BOT (serial 5343305) was last registered to a "private operator in Angola". Who could that possibly be?

Now, you might be wondering if we - the Glorious Coalition - would really have dealings with this bunch of pirates. What about this? It is a record of purchase agreements signed between the US Defence Energy Support Centre and commercial enterprises. At the top of page 29, there is a listing for:
British Gulf International Airlines, TC
SAIF Zone, A3-24
PO BOX 26078
Sharjah, UAE.
The date of the agreement is given as the 5th of April, 2004. Now, what exactly is a Defence Energy Support Centre? In its own words:
"In 1973, DFSC progressed from a wholesale fuel central procurement activity to a more comprehensive mission as the Integrated Materiel Manager (IMM) for the Department of Defense petroleum requirements. Under Phase I, DFSC added management of the acquisition, storage, distribution and sale of fuel with responsibility ending at the Service installation boundary. In 1991 Phase II began, which expanded DLA's ownership of bulk petroleum products to include most bulk storage installations. This effort was divided into two parts, Phase IIA which capitalized aviation fuel and Phase IIB which will capitalize all ground fuels.
Once Phase II is completed DLA will own all bulk petroleum products from the point of purchase until its final point of issue to power aircraft, ships, and ground equipment."
So, it is the US armed forces' organisation for the supply of fuel. Looking up the DESC's contract instruction manual (aren't you glad I did it and not you), here, we find the details of how to interpret those purchase agreements. The "Signal Code" on the agreement shows "which activity receives the fuel and which activity receives the bill". On the one in question it is A, which according to the manual means "Ship to requisitioner/Bill requisitioner". That would appear to mean that the fuel is to be shipped to the billing address.

Which means that, without a doubt, British Gulf is working in our names. We are supplying its fuel.

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