Tuesday, June 01, 2004

So - how did we all miss this?

The guts of the Viktor Bout story are now well and truly open. Just how did we all miss this? The Belgian Institute for Peace Information (IPIS) published the details back in October, 2003, and it would appear that we were all asleep at the wheel. Here is their shocking report. They claim to have access to documents found in Sanjivan Ruprah's laptop computer, an astonishing scoop if true. Ruprah, a Kenyan of Indian origins, is one of the men most frequently associated with Viktor Bout's activities. He appears to have acted as a salesman for weapons around West Africa, and among other things was the conduit for some of those payments from LISCR to San Air. He was arrested in Belgium in 2002 but then released - it has been said after US pressure was brought to bear - before being arrested again in Italy that October. he was again released, and his location is currently unknown.

If genuine, the documents are dynamite. Ruprah is quoted as being in contact with the FBI from his Belgian cell and apparently asking for US assistance in getting himself released. Further, he is quoted as offering the support of his organisation for the Northern Alliance. In a note apparently sent in late 2001, he gives specific details of weapons needed by the Northerners, including considerable numbers of SA18 Igla man-portable SAMs and attack helicopters, and states that he had consulted Viktor Bout about the project. Well, that I suppose would be that as far as this story goes. Perhaps the Iraq contracts are in the nature of a doubtless lucrative reward or kickback.

The open questions remain. How the hell did IPIS get their hands on these? If the computer was examined by Belgian or Italian authorities, a leak might explain it. What did the Northerners want with so many SAMs? - the Taliban air threat was minimal to say the least. Possibly they were simply profiteering from the sudden influx of US support, or stocking up in anticipation of a future power struggle. And what about the Ukrainian-Taliban deals, that were still going on at the time? The risk that arms shipped via the Bout/Ruprah/Chichakli system - shall we call it Air Kalashnikov? - might have been diverted to other causes is obvious, as is the danger of truly epic blowback.

There are other possibilities. Perhaps the Ruprah letters are phoney or intended for blackmail purposes. But - how did everyone miss this?

(NOTE: The link should now work.)

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