I noted here some time ago that I had put in a freedom of information request about the MOD's use of airlines linked to the Russian Arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The MOD did reply by 16 November, and so it's probably about time I posted their response here as promised. Below is what I received from Defence Supply Chain Operations and Movements at the Defence Logistics Organisation. It pretty much confirms what we know from Andrew Gilligan's story in the Evening Standard (as preserved for posterity by the Yorkshire Ranter and Co in Operation Mirrorball).
Dear Mr Griffin,
Thank you for email received of 29th September 2005. In answer to your questions in order:
Q1. You asked on what occasions in the past five years has the MOD or airline brokers acting on its behalf, used the services of Trans Avia, Jet Line and other companies linked to Mr Bout, such as those designated by the US Treasury?
A1. There have been seven flights in total: two flights on 7th and 9th Mar 05 were operated by a Jet Line International aircraft (Reg: ER-IBE); a further three flights were conducted by Bright Aviation on 6th, 7th and 9th Mar 05 using a leased aircraft (Reg ER-IBV) from Jet Line International; finally two flights were operated by Volga Dnepr on 7th and 8th Mar 05 using a leased aircraft (Reg: EW-76734) from Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines. All IL76 flights were contracted by the MOD through two brokers in the commercial airline industry.
Q2. What was the purpose, point of departure and destination of these flights?
A2.These flights carried military trucks from RAF Brize Norton and RAF Lyneham to Pristina in support of the Spearhead Land Element that was being deployed to Kosovo for humanitarian reasons.
Q3. What payments have been made to these companies by the MOD or brokers acting on its behalf?
A3. MOD did not place the contract directly with Jet Line International, Bright Aviation or Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines. Defence Supply Chain Operations and Movements uses major aircraft brokers to source aircraft on its behalf and the MOD's contract is with the brokers, to whom payment was made in full.
Q4. What consideration has the MOD given to the links between these companies and the Bout arms trafficking network in its decision to employ them?
A4. We had no knowledge at the time of charter of links with Victor Bout. The standard operating procedure required that we checked the list of airlines not sanctioned by Department for Transport/Civil Aviation Authority; at that time Bright Aviation or Trans Avia Export Cargo Airlines did not appear on this list. MOD would not knowingly charter with companies linked to Viktor Bout.
Q5. What instructions has the MOD given to airline brokers operating on its behalf about the employment of airlines linked to Viktor Bout or other illicit arms trafficking networks?
A5. MOD insists that brokers make appropriate checks to ensure compliance with UK aviation law but other assessment is made in house.
Q6. What steps has the MOD taken to ensure that airlines linked to illicit arms trafficking networks are not employed on MOD business.
A6. Procedures have been revised to ensure that appropriate checks are made to cover such issues before new or unknown airlines are used on MOD business.
I have received a comment on this reply from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, whose spokesman Mike Lewis said:
"Viktor Bout is one of the world's most notorious arms dealers, wanted since 2002 under an international arrest warrant for arms trafficking to numerous warzones and dictators. That the MOD should provide business for his companies serves to indicate how blurred the boundaries are between the 'legal' and the 'illegal' arms trade, often taking place with the knowledge of Western governments.
"But most shocking is the Government's unbelievable claim that they didn't know that the companies were connected to Bout. They need to explain how they could tell Parliament in 2002 that Trans Avia was a Bout company, and yet claim not to have known in 2005. They also need to explain how they could welcome the United Arab Emirates' banning of Trans Avia in 2002, while declining to ban the company in the UK.
"The MOD claim to have revised procedures to run checks on 'new or unknown airlines'. But Trans Avia wasn't 'new' or 'unknown' - it was publicly and widely known as a Bout company at the time of these contracts."
Incidentally, US journalist Doug Farah has a post on the latest UN moves against Viktor Bout here.