South African aviation brokers tried to source aircraft for alleged arms traders – report

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Numerous aviation brokers based in South Africa allegedly tried to source aircraft for associates of arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to a report by the Conflict Awareness Project.

The brokers apparently attempted to provide aircraft for Andrei Kosolapov and Sergey Denisenko for possible use in countries such as Iran, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in violation of arms embargoes put in place by the United Nations.

The Conflict Awareness Project said that the Denisenko-Kosolapov network attempted to attain an Air Operation Certificate from the government of Mauritius for their company Island Air Systems, which would have enabled them to bypass Un weapons embargoes and move weapons to Iran, Sudan and the Congo.

Denisenko and Kosolapov set up a complex network of companies, including Avialinx TRD (United Arab Emirates), Gibson & Hills Investment LTD (Mauritius), Superfly Aviation (Mauritius) and Island Air Systems Ltd (Mauritius). Earlier this month the Mauritian authorities denied the application of Island Air System for the air operation certificate. “We’ve stopped a trafficking operation from taking root in Mauritius,” said Kathi Lynn Austin, executive director of the Conflict Awareness Project. “But multiple governments still need to take direct action to shut down this global network for good.”

The Project’s report stated that, “The UK and South African aviation brokers we spoke to all were sourcing planes, at Denisenko and Kosolapov’s request, for use only in Iran, DRC, and/or Sudan/South Sudan. Notably, not one entity we interviewed had been asked by Denisenko and Kosolapov to source aircraft for Mauritius.”

Denisenko acknowledged that he worked with Bout in the past, but said he had divested his share in Island Air Systems after accusations of fraud led to a falling-out with his former business partners, reports the New York Times. Kosolapov told the NY Times that he was a director for Island Air Systems, but that the company had legally applied for the certificate to charter regional flights out of Mauritius and was not engaged in weapons trafficking. “Everything that I have done has been correct and perfectly legal,” he said.

The allegations contained in the Conflict Awareness Project report could implicate companies and individuals based in the United States, Finland, Australia and South Africa, which were linked to Island Air Systems through financing deals or contracts to provide aircraft and flight crews to the company, the New York times notes.

The report states that South Africa was one of Viktor Bout’s forward operating bases in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “Consequently, a large pool of South African aviation actors have worked for Bout or been associated with his cargo enterprises.”
“Many actors involved in this network had a connection to Viktor Bout and are back in the game of shipping arms to war zones,” said Austin.

In April Bout, known as the “merchant of death,” and “lord of war” was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to sell weapons and anti-aircraft missiles to what he thought was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a sting operation set up by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
“As we tracked Denisenko and Kosolapov’s business associates from Mauritius to South Africa, we found at least six South African aviation brokers attempting to source planes for Kosolapov and/or Denisenko for possible placement in Iran, Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. None of the proactive brokers we interviewed had been asked to source planes for use in Mauritius,” stated the Project’s report, entitled ‘Viktor Bout’s Gunrunning Successors: A Lethal Game of Catch Me if You Can’.

The South African aviation brokers said it was easy to operate South African civilian registered aircraft outside of the nation’s territory and in places that might raise red flags in the US and Europe. “The intended plan as repeatedly described to us was that the Russian-led enterprise would take possession of American planes by securing their entry first into South Africa on South African registrations, before flipping them over for use, or, if necessary, for registration elsewhere. For the time being, the only hold up seemed to be the pending Mauritius AOC,” the Conflict Awareness Project report stated. The Project agreed to withhold the names of individuals and companies “in the interest of a potential official South African inquiry.”
“Another outcome of our meeting with the South African official was the detection of a potential vulnerability in the South African arms control legislation. Whereas military aircraft or aircraft designed for war are included under the National Conventional Arms Control Act, civilian aircraft, including passenger carriers, have remained effectively outside the scope of the law. This legal gap concerning civilian aircraft was the precise loophole that Denisenko and Kosolapov intended to exploit,” the report noted, and called for loopholes to be closed.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) today said it would write to Ruth Bengu, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Transport, requesting that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) provide a briefing on “regulatory loopholes” related to the import and export of civilian aircraft and civilian aircraft parts in South Africa.

This is also not the first case that has raised questions about the state of regulation of the import and export of civilian aircraft in South Africa, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans David Maynier said. In 2009, a company called Tigris International, attempted to sell three AirbusA300 aircraft, bought from South China Air, to a civilian airline company called Saha Airlines in Iran.

The regulation of the export of civilian aircraft seems to “fall between the cracks” at the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) and the South African Council for the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (NPC), the DA stated.

The SACAA has to keep an eye on an enormous number of civilian aircraft in South Africa. In 2010/11, for example, 369 aircraft were registered, 111 aircraft were deregistered, bringing the total number of registered aircraft to 11 289 on the South African Civil Aircraft Register.



When civilian aircraft are exported, the SACAA is responsible for the de-registration of the aircraft on the South African Civil Aircraft Register. However, the SACAA is not responsible for actually authorizing the export of civilian aircraft in South Africa. Moreover, the export of civilian aircraft is not specifically regulated by the NCACC or NPC.
“This appears to create a regulatory loophole, which could all too easily be exploited by crime syndicates operating in South Africa,” Maynier stated. “The DA will, therefore, write to Ruth Bengu, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Transport, requesting that she schedule a hearing for the SACAA to brief the committee on: the current state of the registration and de-registration of civilian aircraft on the South African Civil Aircraft Register; the current state of regulation of the import and export of civilian aircraft and civilian aircraft parts; and possible solutions to the regulatory loopholes related to the import and export of civilian aircraft and civilian aircraft parts in South Africa.”
“We cannot allow South Africa to become a safe haven for transnational criminals who exploit regulatory loopholes in South Africa,” Maynier concluded.